Hydrocephalus is almost always treated successfully with surgical placement of a shunt or an ETV; but rarely does either treatment last a lifetime without complications. A critical aspect of managing hydrocephalus is being well informed and staying vigilant about potential life-threatening complications. Most problems associated with shunting or ETV occur weeks or even years after the surgery. When things are going well, it is easy to forget about hydrocephalus and having a shunt or an ETV. We encourage you to stay alert and informed.
Knowing what symptoms to watch for will help you become more at ease. Although the early symptoms of shunt malfunction or infection in children—fever, vomiting and irritability—are similar to many childhood illnesses, you will learn to determine the symptoms associated with shunt failure in a particular individual. Adults tend to exhibit the symptoms they experienced before treatment when there is a problem. If you have any doubt about symptoms, don’t hesitate to contact a doctor. If you suspect there is a problem with the shunt, you are wise to have it checked by the neurosurgeon rather than ignore it. It is better to have a false alarm checked than to leave it unattended. Remember, although shunt complications can be very serious and become life threatening, they can be treated successfully when they are discovered early.
An estimated 50% of shunts fail within two years and 20-50% of ETVs close up within five years. Either treatment can fail at any time. Infections are less common, but still not infrequent. Be informed and vigilant. Be prepared to act quickly. Mere hours can mean the difference between a resolvable complication and brain damage or even death, especially in children.