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Ventriculoperitoneal Shunt Surgery for Children: What to Expect at Home

Your Child's Recovery

Ventriculoperitoneal shunt surgery (VP shunt surgery) helps control pressure in the brain by draining extra fluid out of the brain and into the belly. During VP shunt surgery, the doctor placed two small tubes (catheters) and a valve under your child's skin.

After surgery, your child's neck or belly may be tender. But your child should not have much pain. And your child's head may start to get smaller 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 5 to 10 days after surgery.

The shunt will not limit your child's activities. There will be a lump on your child's head where the valve is. This lump may not show when your child's hair grows back. In some cases, the shunt can't be felt under the skin.

It is important to watch for signs of infection or signs that the shunt is not working right. If your child's shunt gets infected or stops working well, it may need to be removed or replaced. Without problems, your child's shunt may be left in place for years.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for your child to recover. But each child recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to help your child get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for your child at home?

Activity

  • Your child may be tired for a few days. When your child is ready, they can return to their normal activities.
  • Teach your child not to touch the valve on top of their head.
  • It is okay for your child to lie on the side of the head that has the shunt.
  • Your child may be able to return to school or daycare in 4 to 7 days, or whenever your doctor says it is okay. Your child should not go to gym or PE class for 6 to 8 weeks.
  • For 6 weeks, do not let your child play rough, bike, skate, or do anything that could cause your child to hit their head.
  • Your child can shower after your doctor says it is okay to remove the bandages. Afterward, be sure to pat the incision areas dry.
  • Do not let your child swim or bathe until the stitches or staples are removed.
  • Check with your doctor about when it is safe for your child to travel by plane.

Diet

  • The tubing in your child's belly will not affect how your child digests food. Your child can eat as usual. If your child's stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
  • You may notice a change in your child's bowel habits right after surgery. This is common. If your child has not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, call your doctor or nurse call line.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when your child can restart any medicines. The doctor will also give you instructions about your child taking any new medicines.
  • If your child needs pain medicines, talk to your doctor about using acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin).
  • If you think the pain medicine is making your child sick to the stomach:
    • Have your child take the medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, be sure your child takes them as directed. Don't stop giving them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take all the antibiotics.

Incision care

  • If your child has strips of tape on the incisions the doctor made, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
  • Wash your child's incision areas daily with warm, soapy water, and gently pat them dry. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing. You may cover the areas with a gauze bandage if they weep or rub against clothing. Change the bandages every day.
  • Keep the areas clean and dry.

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 call line 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.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).
  • Your child has severe trouble breathing.
  • Your child has sudden chest pain and shortness of breath or coughs up blood.
  • It is difficult for your child to think, move, speak, or see.
  • Your child's body is jerking or shaking.
  • Your child falls and hits their head.
  • Your child is confused, does not know where they are, or is extremely sleepy or hard to wake up.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You feel new bumps on your child's head 3 to 5 days after surgery, or the bumps get bigger after 2 weeks.
  • Your child has signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • Swollen lymph nodes in your child's neck, armpits, or groin.
    • A fever.
  • Your child has a headache and throws up.
  • Your child has a fever with a stiff neck or a severe headache.
  • Your child has new or worse headaches.
  • Your child is very tired or cranky.
  • Your child sleeps more than they are awake.
  • Your child has a fever over 38°C (100.4°F).
  • Your child's incision comes open.
  • Your child has any vision changes.
  • Your child's pain does not get better after your child takes pain medicine.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if your child has any problems.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.