Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) is the liquid that flows throughout the brain.
Due to certain brain or sinus injuries, a leak of CFS can occur in the
brain. If there is too much CFS in the brain, a condition known as hydrocephalus
develops. This condition affects hundreds of thousands of people from
the very old to the very young. In fact, it is a somewhat common condition
in children (also referred to as water on the brain). Sadly, hydrocephalus
is the most common reason for brain surgery in children, according to the
In order to decrease pressure in the brain and prevent brain damage and
even death, shunt surgery is often needed. When a shunt is placed in the
brain, it is placed inside the ventricles in order to remove fluid from
the brain that should not be there. Although many people’s lives
are saved by the shunt surgery, some people need additional surgeries
to stay well. This is because shunts sometimes fail due to the following reasons:
- Mechanical malfunction. The
National Hydrocephalus Foundation cites several reasons that a shunt may fail. A shunt blockage is common
in the first few months. The blockage is typically caused because of the
incorrect placement of the catheter. Occasionally, a catheter may break
or disconnect from its valve, or it may not be long enough. Additionally,
a valve can become broken or, in a fixed shunt, the incorrect pressure
valve may have been used.
- Infections. According to
U.S. Pharmacist, most shunt infections occur in pediatric patients under the age of five
within one to two months of the shunt being placed. Older patients, especially
those between 50 and 59 years of age, may experience a shunt infection
within 90 days of undergoing a shunt revision surgery. When doctors fail
to recognize a shunt infection, a shunt may malfunction, causing cognitive
impairment, meningitis, or sepsis—any of which can be life threatening.
Whether a shunt fails or becomes infected, it is critical that a doctor
diagnose and treat the problem immediately. If a doctor does not treat
the infection or replace the failed or infected shunt, patients may suffer
Symptoms of Shunt Malfunction
There are many signs and symptoms of a shunt malfunction or infection.
Foremost are headaches, nausea and/or vomiting, and cognitive impairment,
although the following can also occur depending on the age of the patient:
- An enlarged head
- Visible veining on the scalp
- Change in personality
- Sleepiness or inability to stay awake
- Eyes cast downward
- Vision problems
- Loss of sensory or motor functions
When these signs or symptoms occur, it is imperative that a doctor check
for shunt malfunction or infection. The most common way of diagnosing
this is through an ultrasound for infants, and a CT scan or MRI for adults.
The Reality of Shunt Malfunction
Surprisingly, shunt failure is all too common. In fact, only 30 percent
of the annual 40,000 hydrocephalus operations in our country are a patient’s
first surgery. For pediatric patients, an estimated 50 percent of shunts
fail within the first two years and require additional surgeries, according
to the Hydrocephalus Association. When an additional surgery is needed,
complications due to medical negligence can occur during the shunt replacement
surgery, such as:
- Surgical errors. Even brain surgeons make mistakes from time to time. Unfortunately, any
error a neurosurgeon makes during preoperative planning or during surgery
can have life-altering effects for patients. Frighteningly, even a very
experienced surgeon who performs multiple shunt placement surgeries every
week can make a critical mistake that can cause brain damage.
- Anesthesia errors during surgery. When an anesthesiologist fails to monitor a patient’s vitals or
gives a patient too much medication while undergoing shunt replacement
surgery, a patient can suffer brain damage. This may be due to the anesthesiologist
not recognizing underlying factors of the patient, such as hypo- or hyperglycemia.
More commonly, however, mistakes are made in the preoperative medications,
either in the type of anesthetic agent or in the dosage.
If there is a shunt failure and negligence is to blame, you or a loved
one deserves compensation for your medical bills, ongoing care, lost income,
loss of enjoyment of life and so much more. Please call our office today
or request a copy of one of our
free books to learn more about your rights to a medical malpractice lawsuit in Washington,
D.C. and Virginia.