Ventriculoperitoneal shunt surgery (VP shunt surgery) helps control pressure in your brain by draining extra fluid out of your brain and into your belly. During VP shunt surgery, the doctor placed two small tubes (catheters) and a valve under your skin.
After surgery, your neck or belly may feel tender. You will probably feel tired, but you should not have much pain. For a few weeks after surgery, you may have headaches.
It's common to feel some fluid moving around in your scalp. This will go away as your scalp heals. The area around the stitches or staples may feel tender for a week or more. If needed, the doctor will remove your stitches or staples 5 to 10 days after surgery.
The shunt will not limit your activities. There will be a lump on your head where the valve is. This lump may not show when your hair grows back. You may or may not feel the shunt underneath your skin.
In some cases, your doctor may need to adjust your shunt valve so the right amount of fluid is draining. Watch for signs of infection or signs that the shunt is not working right. If the shunt gets infected or stops working well, it may need to be removed or replaced. Without problems, your shunt may be left in place for years.
This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to get better as quickly as possible.
How can you care for yourself at home?
- Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
- Do not touch the valve on your head.
- It is okay for you to lie on the side of your head with the shunt.
- For 6 weeks, do not do any activity that may cause you to hit your head.
- You will probably be able to return to work in less than 1 week.
- After your doctor says it is okay to remove the bandages, you can shower. Afterward, be sure to pat the incision areas dry.
- Do not swim or bathe until your stitches or staples are removed.
- Check with your doctor about when it is safe to travel by plane.
- The tube in your belly will not affect how you digest food. You can eat as usual. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
- You may notice that your bowel movements are not regular right after your surgery. This is common. Try to avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements. You may want to take a fiber supplement every day. If you have not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, ask your doctor about taking a mild laxative.
- Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. You will also get instructions about taking any new medicines.
- If you take aspirin or some other blood thinner, ask your doctor if and when to start taking it again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
- Be safe with medicines. Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
- If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
- If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
- Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
- If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
- Take your medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
- Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.
- If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
- If you have strips of tape on the incisions the doctor made, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
- Wash your incision areas daily with warm, soapy water, and gently pat them dry. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing. You may cover the areas with a gauze bandage if they weep or rub against clothing. Change the bandages every day.
- Keep the areas clean and dry.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
When should you call for help?
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
- You passed out (lost consciousness).
- You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.
- You have severe trouble breathing.
- It is hard to think, move, speak, or see.
- Your body is jerking or shaking.
Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:
- You feel new bumps on your head 3 to 5 days after surgery or the bumps get bigger after 2 weeks.
- There is redness or swelling along the shunt.
- You have trouble thinking clearly.
- You have a fever with a stiff neck or a severe headache.
- Your incision comes open.
- You have signs of infection, such as:
- Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
- Red streaks leading from the incision.
- Pus draining from the incision.
- Swollen lymph nodes in your neck, armpits, or groin.
- A fever.
- You have any sudden vision changes.
- You have new or worse headaches.
- You are sleeping more than you are awake.
- You fall and hit your head.
- You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
- You have a fever over 100°F.
- You throw up.
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.
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