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Learning About Ventriculoperitoneal Shunt Surgery in Children

What is ventriculoperitoneal shunt surgery?

Ventriculoperitoneal shunts (VP shunts) help control the pressure in the brain. Certain conditions, such as brain tumours or fluid buildup in the brain (hydrocephalus), can cause the brain to swell. When this happens, the brain may not be able to work well. VP shunts help lower the pressure by draining extra fluid out of the brain and into the belly. This extra fluid is absorbed by the body.

How long does this surgery take?

The surgery usually takes a few hours. But your child will probably need to be in the hospital for several days.

How is this surgery done?

The doctor makes a few small cuts (incisions) above your child's ear. Then the doctor drills a small hole in the side of the skull to get to your child's brain. The doctor puts a thin tube called a catheter through this hole into the fluid-filled area of the brain.

Then the doctor makes another incision in your child's belly. A second catheter is gently pushed through this incision and under your child's skin and up through the chest and neck. The doctor then attaches the two catheters with a valve on the side or back of your child's head. Then the incisions are closed with stitches or staples. Both catheters and the valve are completely underneath the skin.

Your child will be asleep during this surgery.

What can you expect after this surgery?

After surgery, your child's neck or belly may be tender. But there should not be much pain. You may notice the swelling of your child's head become less right away.

The area around the stitches or staples may be tender for a week or so. If needed, the doctor will remove your child's stitches or staples.

The shunt won't limit your child's activities. There will be a lump on your child's head where the valve is. In some cases, the shunt can't be felt under the skin.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

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