by EBSCO Medical Review Board


Ventriculoperitoneal shunt surgery places a tube that runs from the brain to the belly.

Reasons for Procedure

This surgery is done to drain excess fluid from the brain to treat hydrocephalus . Excess fluid causes increased pressure in the head. This pressure can damage sensitive brain tissues. The shunt eases pressure on the brain by draining the extra fluid.

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Possible Complications

Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:

  • Excess bleeding
  • Problems from anesthesia, such as wheezing or sore throat
  • Infection in the shunt or brain
  • Blood clot or bleeding in the brain
  • Shunt failure
  • Brain swelling
  • Damage to brain tissue

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

The surgical team may meet with you to talk about:

  • Anesthesia options
  • Any allergies your child may have
  • Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that your child takes and whether they need to be stopped before surgery
  • Fasting before surgery, such as avoiding food or drink after midnight the night before
  • Tests that will need to be done before surgery


General anesthesia will be given. Your child will be asleep.

Description of the Procedure

Small incisions will be made in the scalp and belly. A small hole is made in the skull. The tube is passed through the hole into the skull. Then, the catheter is passed under the skin down to the belly. This end of the tube is pulled into the belly. The incisions are closed. A bandage will be placed over the incisions.

How Long Will It Take?

1 to 1½ hours

Will It Hurt?

There will be discomfort at the incision sites that may last for a few days. Medicine and home care can help.

Average Hospital Stay

The usual length of stay is 3 to 7 days. If your child has any problems, they may need to stay longer.

Post-procedure Care

At the Hospital

Right after the procedure, the staff may:

  • Have your child lay flat for up to 24 hours
  • Check the shunt to make sure it is working as it should
  • Give your child pain medicine

During your child's stay, the hospital staff will take steps to lower your child's risk of infection, such as:

  • Washing their hands
  • Wearing gloves or masks
  • Keeping your child's incisions covered

There are also steps you can take to lower your child's risk of infection, such as:

  • Washing your hands often and reminding visitors and staff to do the same
  • Reminding staff to wear gloves or masks
  • Not letting others touch your child's incisions
At Home

It will take about a week for the incisions to heal. Physical activity may be limited at first with a slow return to normal activities. Your child will need to delay returning to school.

Call Your Child’s Doctor

Call the doctor if your child is not getting better or has:

  • Symptoms that return
  • Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
  • A stiff neck
  • headaches
  • Irritability
  • Redness, swelling, a lot of bleeding, or any discharge from the incision site
  • Been vomiting
  • Pain that is not controlled by medicine
  • Vision problems
  • Been very sleepy
  • Confusion
  • Not been eating or drinking enough

Call for emergency medical services right away if your child has:

  • Problems breathing
  • Blue or gray skin color
  • Problems waking up and is not interacting
  • Not wanted to be held
  • Seizures

If you think your child has an emergency, call for medical help right away.


Hydrocephalus Association 

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke 


Canadian Paediatric Society 

Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Canada 


About normal pressure hydrocephalus. National Hydrocephalus Association website. Available at: Accessed September 8, 2021.

Hydrocephalus in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed September 8, 2021.

Hydrocephalus information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: Accessed September 8, 2021.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kuenn, MD
  • Review Date: 07/2021
  • Update Date: 09/08/2021