A cerebrospinal fluid shunt is a type of cerebral shunt used to alleviate the buildup of excess cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) on the brain. That sounds like a lot of big scary words, but it’s actually a common medical procedure and a life-saving treatment for many patients. These shunt systems drain excess fluid from the brain to another part of the body where the fluid is absorbed as part of the circulatory process.
At Athens Brain & Spine, we use CSF shunts to help treat hydrocephalus, a medical condition that results in an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the skull. We also implement it in the treatment of pseudotumor cerebri, a condition that occurs when pressure inside the skull increases for no obvious reason. Also called idiopathic intracranial hypertension, the symptoms mimic those of a brain tumor though no tumor is present.
Shunts can come in a variety of forms but most of them consist of a valve housing connected to a catheter, the end of which is usually placed in the abdomen, but may also be placed in the heart or lungs. Placing a shunt usually requires less than an hour in the operating room. After you, the patient, are placed under general anesthesia, a portion of your scalp is shaved and scrubbed with an antiseptic from the scalp to the abdominal area. Incisions are then made on the head and in the abdomen to allow Dr. Walpert to pass the shunt tubing through the fatty tissue just under the skin. The incisions are then closed and sterile bandages are applied.
You will stay under careful neurological observation for the first 24 hours following the procedure to ensure full recovery and that no infection is taking place. Risks and complications associated with a CSF shunt are usually postoperative-- unlike many other operations in which the surgical risks are highest during the operation itself, most of the common and serious problems associated with shunting can occur weeks or even years after the surgery. The most common of these is obstruction of the shunt, which, while occurring in up to 50% of patients, is easily fixed and rarely results in serious problems.