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Pediatr Emerg Care. 2016 Sep;32(9):585-9. doi: 10.1097/PEC.0000000000000760.

The Role of Limited Head Computed Tomography in the Evaluation of Pediatric Ventriculoperitoneal Shunt Malfunction.

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From the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine and Department of Radiology, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC.



The evaluation of children with suspected ventriculoperitoneal shunt (VPS) malfunction has evolved into a diagnostic dilemma. This patient population is vulnerable not only to the medical risks of hydrocephalus and surgical complications but also to silent but harmful effects of ionizing radiation secondary to imaging used to evaluate shunt efficacy and patency. The combination of increased medical awareness regarding ionizing radiation and public concern has generated desire to reduce the reliance on head computed tomography (CT) for the evaluation of VPS malfunction. Many centers have started to investigate the utility of low-dose CT scans and alternatives, such as fast magnetic resonance imaging for the investigation of VP shunt malfunction in order to keep radiation exposure as low as reasonably achievable. This pilot study hopes to add to the armamentarium available to the clinician charged with evaluating this challenging patient population by testing the feasibility of a limited CT protocol as an alternative to a full head CT examination.


To evaluate the efficacy of a limited head CT protocol compared with a complete head CT for the evaluation of children presenting to the pediatric emergency department with suspected shunt malfunction.


We retrospectively reviewed all pediatric patients who received a head CT for suspected VPS malfunction evaluation at a tertiary care children's hospital from January 2001 through January 2013. Children were included in the pilot study if they had at least 2 CT scans in this study period interpreted by a specific senior attending neuroradiologist. For each patient enrolled, a limited series was generated from the most recent CT scan by selecting four representative axial slices based on the sagittal scout image. These 4 slices where selected at the level of the fourth ventricle, third ventricle, basal ganglia level, and lateral ventricles, respectively. A blinded, senior attending neuroradiologist first reviewed the limited 4-slice CT data set and was asked to determine if the ventricular system had increased, decreased, or remained stable. Subsequently, the neuroradiologist compared their interpretation of the limited examination with the official report from the full CT data set as the standard of reference as well as the interpretation of the most recent prior scan.


Forty-six patients (age range, 2 months to 18 years; average age, 6.4 years (SD, 4.2), 54% male) were included in the study. Forty-four of 46 (95.7%) limited CT scans matched the official report of the full CT scan. No cases of increased ventricular size were missed (100% positive predictive value for increased ventricular size). The use of a limited head CT (4 axial images) instead of a complete head CT (average of 31 axial images in our studied patients) confers a radiation dose reduction of approximately 87%.


Our pilot study demonstrates that utilization of limited head CT scan in the evaluation of children with suspected VP shunt malfunction is a feasible strategy for the evaluation of the ventricular size. Further prospective and multidisciplinary studies are needed to evaluate the reliability of limited head CT for the clinical evaluation of VP shunt malfunction.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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