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If too much fluid builds up in your child’s head, this creates pressure that can be harmful, even life threatening. A ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunt drains away this extra fluid so that the pressure does not build up.
A ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunt is a long, plastic tube placed in the ventricle of the brain. It drains body fluid (cerebrospinal fluid or CSF) away from your child's brain to another part of their body.
A VP shunt has 3 parts:
The long tube (distal catheter) runs under the skin, behind your child's ear. The tube travels down the neck and chest inside the body until it reaches the peritoneal space (see picture). The fluid does not go into the stomach. The body can take up the liquid or pass it into the urine.
Your child's shunt may drain into a bag outside their body (an externalized shunt). An externalized (external) shunt is always temporary until the doctor puts it inside the body or removes it. See "External Shunts" on together.stjude.org.
CSF fluid usually stays at a normal level and drains from the brain. If too much fluid builds up and it does not drain out, the brain pressure rises. This rise in pressure can hurt the brain and be life-threatening. The VP shunt drains the extra CSF from the brain and lowers the pressure,
Fluid build-up in the brain is hydrocephalus. A child may have hydrocephalus if they:
Some VP shunts are programmable, and some are not; ask your doctor which kind your child has. If your child has a programmable shunt:
Patients with VP shunts usually need them for life. The shunt must work properly and keep the brain pressure safe, so they stay healthy.
Watch for warning signs that the shunt is not working or is infected.
Your child's health can vary daily, and problems happen quickly. Watch for (1) or more of these warning signs that a shunt is not working properly:
Bacteria (germs) can cause a VP shunt infection. The shunt may stop working correctly if there is an infection. Pressure can rise causing harm that may be life threatening.
Watch for these signs of shunt infection:
Carry this information with you at all times:
Tell others about your child's shunt:
See together.stjude.org for more information on related topics:
Reviewed: September 2022