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Pediatrics. 2014 Jul;134(1):e47-54. doi: 10.1542/peds.2013-3739. Epub 2014 Jun 2.

Comparison of rapid cranial MRI to CT for ventricular shunt malfunction.

Author information

Division of Emergency Medicine, and
Department of Pediatric Radiology, Texas Children's Hospital, Houston, Texas.
Division of Emergency Medicine, and.
Department of Neurosurgery, Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts; and.



To compare the accuracy of rapid cranial magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with that of computed tomography (CT) for diagnosing ventricular shunt malfunction.


We performed a single-center, retrospective cohort study of children ≤21 years of age who underwent either rapid cranial MRI or cranial CT in the emergency department (ED) for evaluation of possible ventricular shunt malfunction. Each neuroimaging study was classified as "normal" (unchanged or decreased ventricle size) or "abnormal" (increased ventricle size). We classified a patient as having a ventricular shunt malfunction if operative revision for relief of mechanical causes of altered shunt flow was needed within 72 hours of initial ED evaluation. Our primary analysis tested noninferiority of the accuracy of rapid cranial MRI to CT for diagnosing shunt malfunction (noninferiority margin 10%).


We included 698 ED visits for 286 unique patients, with a median age at visit of 10.0 years (interquartile range 5.9-15.5 years). Patients underwent CT in 336 (48%) or rapid cranial MRI in 362 (52%) of ED visits for evaluation of possible shunt malfunction. Patients had operative revision for ventricular shunt malfunction in 140 ED visits (20%). The accuracy of rapid cranial MRI was not inferior to that of CT scan for diagnosing ventricular shunt malfunction (81.8% MRI vs 82.4% CT; risk difference 2.0%; 95% confidence interval, -4.2% to 8.2%).


Rapid cranial MRI was not inferior to CT for diagnosing ventricular shunt malfunction and offers the advantage of sparing a child ionizing radiation exposure.


cranial CT; rapid cranial MRI; ventricular shunt malfunction

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