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J Emerg Med. 1999 Mar-Apr;17(2):311-22.

Cerebral ventricular shunts.

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  • 1Department of Emergency Medicine, Samaritan Medical Center, Watertown, New York, USA.


Cerebral ventricular shunts are siphoning devices used to treat hydrocephalus. They are placed within cerebral ventricles and peripheral cavities such as the ventricular atrium or peritoneal cavity. Complications include obstruction of cerebral spinal fluid (malfunction) and infection. Morbidity and mortality rates are high when shunt malfunction and infection are not treated emergently. This report summarizes the physical examination of patients with ventricular shunts, reviews the type of shunts commonly used, discusses shunt malfunctions (causing overshunting or undershunting of cerebrospinal fluid) and infections, and makes recommendations concerning empiric antibiotic therapy for shunt infection. The technique of tapping a shunt is presented for management of patients with elevated intracranial pressure that does not respond to non-invasive maneuvers to lower the pressure.

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