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What Is a Cerebral Shunt?

By Meshell Powell
Updated May 17, 2024
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A cerebral shunt is a type of medical device that is surgically placed in the brain in order to remove excess cerebrospinal fluid from the skull. A long tube known as a catheter is attached to the shunt and directed to another area of the body, usually the abdominal cavity, where the fluid is released for reabsorption by the body. The implantation of a cerebral shunt helps to reduce intracranial pressure and may prevent permanent damage to the brain in many instances. Potential complications of this procedure include infection, drainage of too much fluid, or blockages that may require additional surgeries. Any questions or concerns about the potential use of a cerebral shunt in a specific situation should be discussed with the supervising physician.

Hydrocephalus is a medical term used to describe swelling of the brain due to an excessive amount of cerebrospinal fluid within the cranial cavity. Left untreated, the pressure inside the skull builds and brain cells may begin to die. Unlike other cells of the body, brain cells are unable to regenerate, so permanent brain damage or even death may occur if a cerebral shunt is not used.

General anesthesia is normally used during the placement procedure for the cerebral shunt. A small hole is then drilled into the skull and a long tube known as a catheter is extended from the cranial cavity to the abdominal area. A valve is attached to the portion of the catheter nearest to the brain. This valve will be responsible for the flow rate of the fluid as it travels through the catheter into the abdomen, where it will be reabsorbed into the bloodstream.

Serious complications may occasionally occur as a result of the cerebral shunt. Infection is a possibility and is most common among pediatric patients. Untreated infections can cause neurological problems and may even become fatal. When detected early, antibiotic therapy is usually successful in ridding the body of the infection.

Excess protein buildup around the valve can cause a blockage and prevent proper fluid removal. Surgical intervention may be required to remove the obstruction so the cerebral shunt can function properly. In some cases, the valve may not work properly, causing too much fluid to drain from the skull. This can lead to a variety of health issues, including the development of blood clots in the brain. Surgery to replace the valve is the usual method of treatment for this type of complication.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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