Friday, July 12, 2013

misconceptions about shunts (that have come up in some recent conversations)

Hydrocephalus has always affected me in different ways, but it wasn't until I started to have my problems with the shunt itself that I started to talk about it. Up until a few years ago,the majority of the time that I mentioned it was on a need to know basis. Even then there were times where I feel I should have mentioned to people that was in the care of me, as a kid and especially when I was a teenager. When I started getting headaches a lot more often was when I decided not to say quiet about it. I talk about on Facebook once in a while, and I post a link to my blog there whenever I write something new. I've also at least tried to explain my condition when to my department heads,and whenever it's brought up at work. There's some parts where it seems to really hard to understand, no matter how much they want to. The most common is probably has to do with shunts. I'm writing this because I'll be posting it on my Facebook, where some of those people that are confused with the subject will be able to read this. Also if it's brought up at work,I'll be able to direct people to this blog post.

There are different kinds of shunts,and not all of them are used for Hydrocephalus. There are some that are used for heart or liver problems instead. But most commonly it's used for Hydrocephalus or other similar neurological disorders. Shunts are a valve and a catheter that drains cerebrospinal fluid from the brain to another part of the body,when the person's body cannot do this by itself. The drain usually ends in the peritoneal cavity, but with some people it drains to the heart or other organs. The shunt is usually placed in or around the skull going into the brain,but underneath the person's skin. The result is that it's usually visible,but it might not always be noticed by someone who doesn't know anything about it or doesn't know what to look for. Shunts could also be programmable or a fixed valve. A fixed valve is one that is placed at some point, but then there's no way of controlling it without surgery. With the programmable shunt the neurosurgeon can control the settings without needing to do any kind of surgery. Both kinds of shunts has it's own sets of risks and complications. Mine is a fixed valve, because the programmables weren't available until about a decade later. In some cases surgery isn't necessary but it's really rare. Then something that is a option for a limited amount of people is Endoscopic Third Ventriculostomy, where a hole is made in the wall of the Third Ventriculostomy so the fluid can be drained that way. But that options fails often as well, because the hole could close itself up.

What people seem to not understand is my shunt and why it's lasted so long. Mine was placed on September 15th,1987 and at least for now it has lasted me 26 years. For the first 22 years, it rarely even bothered me and the times it only did bother me enough to be noticeable a handful of times. When it did start bothering me  I went to the hospital for during a period of several months and both times I was told the shunt was working fine and it was probably something else. I was sent to the neurologist that I ended up stopped seeing when I was trying to transition from working two jobs to just one part time job.

It's very rare for a shunt to last as long as mine has, but it has nothing to do with a shelf life. There actually isn't any for shunts,and I've met others that has had the same shunt for years or even decades longer than I have, and most of them have very little or no problems with it still. So even if one of the reasons that I'm trouble with mine because it's old, that doesn't mean that's it's past a certain shelf life, because others with older shunts would be having the same problems. It's also pretty common for people to have constant problems with shunts, that are a lot newer. Also not all problems with shunts can't always be fixed by surgery, it sucks but it's just something that a lot of people have to deal with on a daily basis. 

The reason that it's a rare case, is because half of all shunts malfunction in some way during the first two years. Not because of a "shelf life" but because they either break, become infected, or become blocked. I've had people ask or tell me that I should try to force my neurosurgeon or other doctors to replace my shunt just because it's "too old". The reason that I don't do this is because just because this shunt has lasted so long doesn't mean that the next one will. When I do need surgery I will be facing the normal statistics of the life span of shunts. There's a 50% chance that I will never have a shunt last for more than 2 years ever again and I'll like to avoid that until I get to the point where I need to have it replaced. This may be soon, but this last something that people have been telling me since I started talking about it more. 

I covered a couple of the main misconceptions of shunts, specifically mine or others that has lasted a long period of time. If you want me to add anything else or have any questions, please feel free to contact me. If there's anything that needs to be talked about on this subject than I'll write about this subject again in the near future. Thanks for reading.


  1. I love this website :) thank you timothy

  2. Is this the same kind of shunt used for ptc or iih?

    1. The shunts that are in the diagrams are Ventricular,but there are Lumbar shunts as well. Both are used for all three conditions, but I'm not sure about the reasons why they would use one instead of the other. You can tell which one is being used by the abbreviations. The Ventricular shunts are (VP,VA,and VPL). The Lumbar ones are (LP and LS). Main difference in Lumbar shunts inserted in the back between two vertebrae.