While NPH cannot be cured, many people find relief through the surgical placement of a shunt. A shunt is a thin tube that routes excess fluid from the brain to another area of the body. Because shunt placement is a lifelong treatment for NPH, team members meet to ensure a correct diagnosis is made and that a patient may truly benefit from a shunt. When a patient is correctly diagnosed, an NPH shunt can greatly improve his or her quality of life.
Improve Symptoms of NPH
A shunt is the only effective treatment for NPH. The goal of shunt placement is to improve the three major symptoms of NPH:
- Urinary incontinence
- Difficulty walking
About 30 percent to 50 percent of patients with idiopathic NPH (no known cause) improve after receiving a shunt. About 50 percent to 70 percent of patients with secondary NPH (related to another brain disorder) improve with a shunt.
The shunt is implanted into one of the ventricles of the brain. The shunt consists of a small tube called a catheter and a valve device that regulates the rate of fluid drainage. The shunt is tunneled under the skin to the drainage site.
Ventriculoperitoneal (VP) Shunt
The most common type of shunt is a ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunt, which drain excess CSF from the ventricles to the abdominal or peritoneal cavity. There are two types of shunts: non-programmable and programmable. The programmable type has valves that allow the shunt to be adjusted with a magnetic device after surgery to increase or decrease the drainage rate of the shunt. The shunt used for treating NPH usually remains in the brain permanently.
While NPH VP shunts do not work for every person with NPH, many people experience symptom relief. The shunt allows the fluid to drain out of the brain, which prevents the ventricles from enlarging. This may help a patient walk better, regain bladder control and think more clearly. A successful NPH VP shunt placement tends to help more with walking and bladder control than with dementia.
InvisiShunt® — An Innovative, Invisible Shunt Implant
Traditional shunts result in a bump on your scalp that is easily seen if you have thin hair or are bald. They can also interfere with wearing a hat or how you rest your head when you sleep.
InvisiShunt sits in a cradle recess in your skull so that the valve and hardware are no longer visible. We can accommodate any type of shunt valve and convert old shunts. This is an effective option if the skin over your traditional valve is breaking down or the bump from your shunt is affecting your daily life.
The procedure takes about an hour, during which we create a cavity in the skull that will accommodate the shunt valve. You will spend one night in the hospital for observation which is standard for all shunt procedures. Our surgeon who performs the surgery has extensive experience and is among the specialists in the nation who have performed this procedure the most.
There are no known short- or long-term side effects, other than those associated with any standard surgery. In fact, there are fewer wound complications because your skin does not need to stretch to accommodate the valve. The valves are safe if you should need an MRI. Some of our patients report forgetting that they have a shunt.
There are some patients who are not candidates for InvisiShunt. We do not recommend the device for children as their skulls are still growing. Additionally, we cannot use it to replace shunts that are already placed in the parietal or posterior region of the skull.
Follow-Up Care After Shunt Placement Is Important
Regular follow-up care is important to identify any changes that could indicate problems with the shunt. Complications may include valve malfunction or catheter obstruction in the shunt system, or physical complications related to fluid drainage. These include:
- Subdural hygroma, a collection of cerebrospinal fluid beneath the outermost membrane of the brain
- Subdural hematoma, a collection of blood on the surface of the brain
- Headache associated with over-draining of cerebrospinal fluid
Other risks include those related to shunt placement, such as catheter malposition, intracerebral hematoma (bleeding within the brain) and shunt infection.
For patients with NPH who are not candidates for surgery, treatment may include measures to:
- Relieve mood and behavioral problems
- Cope with physical problems (incontinence and walking difficulties)
- Maximize physical, mental and social functioning.