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Shunt Malfuction

Posted Sep 30 2012 10:05pm
Most cases of shunt malfunctions are due to occlusion (blockage) of the proximal ventricular catheter. In these instances, pumping of the shunt will show a valve that is slow to refill, or does not refill at all. An imaging (CT or MRI) scan will show if the ventricles are of normal size and if the shunt is working properly.

In a majority of cases infection is the cause of shunt malfunction when a distal blockage is suspected. A preoperative CSF specimen from a shunt tap should be obtained to exclude this possibility. The proximal system can be tested by ensuring free flow of CSF, whereas the distal system can be tested by runoff using a manometer.


The signs and symptoms of shunt malfunction are the same as for hydrocephalus itself: headaches, nausea, vomiting, irritability, change in behaviour or intellectual performance, etc.


  • Enlargement of the baby's head
  • Fontanelle is full and tense when the infant is upright and quiet
  • Prominent scalp veins
  • Swelling along the shunt tract
  • Vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Sleepiness
  • Downward deviation of the eyes
  • Seizures


  • Head enlargement
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Irritability and/or sleepiness
  • A loss of previous abilities (sensory or motor function)
  • Seizures


  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Vision problems
  • Irritability and/or tiredness
  • Personality change
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty in waking up or staying awake

If you suspect a shunt failure it is very important you seek medical treatment ASAP!!
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