Monday, March 17, 2008

Complications with shunts in adults with spina bifida

Tomlinson P, Sugarman ID. Complications with shunts in adults with spina bifida. British Medical Journal 1995 Jul 29;311(7000):286-7.

OBJECTIVE--To assess the incidence of malfunction of shunts in adults with spina bifida who have shunts to control hydrocephalus.

DESIGN--A retrospective review of the medical notes and contact by questionnaire of adults with spina bifida to assess symptoms, function of shunts, frequency of operative procedures, and follow-up.

SUBJECTS--110 patients with shunts who attended Lord Mayor Treloar College for the physically disabled between 1978 and 1993.

RESULTS--The average (range) number of revisions of shunts per person was 3.6 (0-28). Although 37 patients underwent an emergency operation for revision in their first year of life, there was a continuing low incidence, increasing in the early teenage years, which persisted into the third decade. Intervals between emergency revisions varied: 202/320 occurred within one year of the last shunt operation, 56 occurred after five years, 24 after 10 years, and 15 after 15 or more years. Fifteen patients had chronic intermittent headaches, of whom four died and three suffered severe morbidity. Thirteen died; three had raised intracranial pressure, and four died suddenly; these deaths were presumed to be related to their shunts. Up to the age of 16 there was 100% hospital follow up, but after that only 40% of young adults underwent review, including review of their shunt function.

CONCLUSION--Shunts to control hydrocephalus may fail after many years without symptoms. This is difficult to diagnose and if missed may lead to chronic morbidity and death. As hospital follow up of this group is falling, both general practitioners and hospital doctors must be aware that a shunt may malfunction after prolonged quiescent periods.

PMID: 7633231

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