What is a VP Shunt?
VP Shunt, also known as a ventriculoperitoneal shunt, is a type of medical device that is used to relieve pressure on the brain that builds up from fluid accumulation. A VP shunt is used to treat a condition called hydrocephalus. This condition is characterized by an accumulation of excess cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain’s ventricles. CSF cushions your brain and protects it from any kind of injury. It also delivers nutrients to the brain and takes away the waste products.
When the normal flow of the CSF in the brain is disrupted, the fluid starts to build up, creating a harmful pressure on the tissues of the brain, leading to brain damage. Through surgery, a VP shunt is placed inside one of the brain’s ventricles, to divert fluid away from the brain and restore the normal flow and pressure.
Everything You Need to Know about VP Shunt from Procedure to Recovery
Hydrocephalus: Causes and Symptoms
The most common causes of hydrocephalus include a blockage. Cysts, tumors, or any kind of inflammation in the brain can lead to the disruption of the normal flow of CSF and result in a pressure build-up in the brain. The symptoms of hydrocephalus include the following:
- An over-sized head
- Headaches and seizures
- Irritability and tiredness
- Excessive sleepiness
- Poor appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Poor coordination and memory loss
- Impaired vision
- Loss of control over urination
- VP Shunt Procedure
To help drain the extra CSF from the brain, a VP Shunt is inserted into the head. This shunt takes extra fluid out from the brain into your belly, where it is absorbed by the body. This helps to reduce the pressure and swelling in the brain. The VP shunt surgery takes about one hour and is done in the operating room, while you are under the influence of general anesthesia.
A VP Shunt consists of 3 parts:
- A One-way Valve with a Reservoir
- A Short Catheter (Thin and Flexible Tube)
- A Long Catheter
The valve controls the flow of the fluid and is attached to the short catheter to drain the fluid away from the brain. This short catheter can be placed in the front, back, or side of the head. The long catheter is also attached to the valve and is channeled under the skin, behind the ear, down the neck, and into your belly.
After VP Shunt Surgery
After surgery, when you wake up, you are transferred to the recovery unit. Your body is attached to various machines that monitor the vital signs of your body such as blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, and oxygen level. You may feel tired after the surgery but it is quite normal.
For the first few days after surgery, the nurses may ask questions from you to find out if your brain is functioning properly. A computed tomography (CT) scan of your head may be conducted one or two days after the surgery to confirm that the shunt is in place.
Your neck or belly may feel tender after the surgery. You may feel tired but there will not be much pain. You may experience headaches for a few weeks after surgery. You will also feel some fluid moving around in your scalp, however, it is common. This will go away as your scalp starts to heal.
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Living with a VP Shunt and some of the most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
There are many questions that may come up in mind of the patient before undergoing any surgery. In case of a VP shunt procedure, most patients want to know what is to live with a VP shunt. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions related to life after getting a VP shunt:
Q. What is the normal life with a VP shunt?
A: Most of the patients with hydrocephalus need to retain their shunt for the whole life. The major advantage of this therapy is the restoration of a normal daily life. The VP shunt will regulate the flow of the CSF. You and your family might be required to take part in the surveillance after a VP shunt procedure. Your doctor will recommend post-operative precautions and regular medical check-ups to detect any possible complications.
Q. Is it possible to practice sports with a VP Shunt?
A: You can practice sports after this procedure like any normal person. However, you should avoid violent activities that can expose the device to shocks and damage the valve mechanism or pressure settings.
Q. Can I get pregnant with a VP Shunt?
A: Getting pregnant is not contraindicated in case you have a VP shunt. However, before you plan your pregnancy, it is important to discuss it with your neurosurgeon.
Q. Is it okay to travel with a VP Shunt?
A: Yes, you can travel normally with a VP shunt. The magnetic fields generated by airport security doors should not affect the pressure setting of your valve. However, do carry your Patient Identification Card with you at all times. This is a card provided to you by your neurosurgeon after shunt surgery.
Q. Can I drive with a VP shunt?
A: It is recommended that patients must not drive after six months of the VP shunt procedure. Even after 6 months, most of the patients come to know when they have high-pressure headaches. In such cases, driving should be avoided until shunt malfunctioning is ruled out or the symptoms resolve.
Q. Do I need to take any precautions with the adjustable valve?
A: Adjustable valves are insensitive to the influence of most of the everyday magnetic fields such as airport security doors, microwave ovens, mobile phones, and high tension wires and TV. They do not affect the pressure settings of your valves. However, the permanent magnets in smartphones, toys audio headphones and loudspeakers, and electromagnetic fields created by the electric motor from the shaver, hairdryer, and clipper can modify the pressure settings in the adjustable valves. Hence, to avoid any risk of pressure changes, these devices must not be brought too close to the valve site.
Q. Do I need to carry any particular document?
A: Yes, you need to keep the Patient Identification Card (PIC) with you all the times. This card is given to you by your neurosurgeon and provides information regarding the implanted device (reference, setting, etc.), which is important for your medical follow-up.
Q. When do I need to consult my doctor?
A: You should consult your doctor in case you experience a headache, vomiting, visual or hearing problems, sleepiness, walking difficulties, unexplained fever, redness, edema, any skin abnormality, or any other issue.
Q. Can I undergo an MRI exam with a valve?
A: A patient who has been fitted with a fixed pressure valve may undergo an MRI exam without any danger or special supervision. However, a patient with an adjustable pressure valve might need special supervision during an MRI exam. The pressure settings of the valves must be checked regularly before and after exposure to the MRI.
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