Ventriculoperitoneal (VP) Shunts

December 4, 2019
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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When it comes to your health or the health of your loved one, it can get frustrating trying to understand all the medical speak. The terms are unfamiliar, you’re already dealing with an emotionally draining situation, and all you want to do is understand the basics so that you can provide the best care for your loved ones. Ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunts can help you ensure the best treatment for a family member with fluid accumulation in the brain.

What is a ventriculoperitoneal shunt?

A ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunt is a medical device designed to relieve pressure on the brain that’s caused by the accumulation of fluid. In a healthy individual, the brain is cushioned by cerebrospinal fluid, which delivers nutrients to the brain. Once it provides the necessary nourishment, the fluid is reabsorbed into the blood.

Sometimes, too much fluid can build up around the brain. This is a dangerous condition that creates pressure on brain tissue. Left unattended, it can cause brain damage. This condition is called hydrocephalus.

Who needs a VP shunt?

Hydrocephalus can occur at any age. However, it occurs more often in babies and adults older than 60 years of age. This excess fluid can be a result of several factors:

  • Overproduction of cerebrospinal fluid
  • Blood vessels that do not absorb it properly
  • A blockage that prevents it from flowing freely – as a result of tumors, cysts, or inflammation

Signs of hydrocephalus include blurred vision, memory loss, severe fatigue, cognitive delays, headaches, seizures, and an abnormally large head. A doctor will run imaging tests to confirm the diagnosis. Once confirmed, a surgeon will schedule surgery for a VP shunt procedure.

VP Shunt Procedure

VP shunts surgery requires general anesthesia and takes about an hour and a half to complete. You may have to limit your food intake between 24 to 48 hours before surgery.

Once in the OR, a nurse will shave an area in the head for the surgeon to be able to place a catheter. This is what the specialist will use to drain the excess fluid. In order to place the catheter, the surgeon makes an incision behind an ear and drills a small hole in the skull. The surgeon will then attach the catheter and connect it to a tube that travels down to the abdomen, where the excess cerebrospinal fluid is drained into. The shunt includes a pressure valve to ensure that only the correct amount of fluid is drained.

The shunt will require regular monitoring and follow up visits. Patients will also need to replace it at some point – usually about two years for children, and close to ten years for adults.

VP Shunt Surgery Recovery

After the surgery, the patient will remain hospitalized for several days. This is done so that your doctor can monitor the VP, and ensure that it’s working properly and that your body is reacting well to it.

Complications of VP Shunts

Complications from VP shunt surgery are not related to the shunt, but are regular complications that can occur after any major surgery. These include infection, blood clots, tissue damage, and swelling or bleeding – in this case, of the brain.

Contact Care Options for Kids for VP Shunt Home Care

If you or an aging loved one are considering home health care services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today (888) 592-5855.