What Symptoms Should be Looked for?
These vary enormously between individuals. Previous personal experience of a shunt problem is usually a reliable guide as to what to look for.
Possible signs of acute shunt blockage may include:
Vomiting, headache, dizziness, photophobia (sensitivity to light) and other visual disturbances, drowsiness and fits.
Possible signs of chronic shunt blockage may include:
Fatigue, general malaise, visuo-perceptual problems, behavioural changes, decline in academic performance, being just ‘not right’ from the carer’s point of view.
Medical advice should be sought from your neurosurgical unit if a shunt blockage is suspected, within four hours of acute symptoms occurring. In shunt infections, symptoms vary with the route of drainage. In ventriculo-peritoneal shunts, the symptoms often resemble those of a blockage. This is because the shunt becomes infected and the lower catheter is very often then sealed off by tissue. There may be accompanying fever and abdominal pain or discomfort.
In ventriculo-atrial shunt infections, fever is present in most cases though often intermittently. Anaemia is frequently present, and sometimes skin rashes along with joint pains.
In contrast to ventriculo-peritoneal shunts, such infections may not appear for months or years after the operation when they were contracted. Various tests can be carried out for shunt infections and medical advice should always be sought if an infection is suspected.