The use of adjustable differential pressure valves has been recommended to improve ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunt performance in selected patients; however, published data are scarce regarding their clinical reliability. Recently, the identification of a number of malfunctioning programmable valves during shunt revision surgery in children prompted a retrospective review of valve performance in this patient cohort.
The authors performed a retrospective chart analysis of 100 patients with programmable valve shunts and 89 patients with nonprogrammable valve shunts implanted at the St. Louis Children's Hospital between April 2002 and June 2004. They noted the cause of hydrocephalus, the type of shunt malfunction, and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) protein levels. Regular clinical follow up ranged from 1 to 26 months, with a mean follow-up time of 9.75 months for patients with programmable valves and 10.4 months for patients with nonprogrammable valves.
Patient ages ranged from 2 weeks to 18 years. One hundred patients had 117 programmable valves implanted, and 35 of these patients (35%) underwent shunt revision because of malfunction. The programmable valve itself malfunctioned in nine patients who had undergone shunt revision (11.1%/year of follow up). The nonprogrammable valve group had no valve malfunctions. The overall VP shunt revision rate in the nonprogrammable valve group was 20.2%. No significant differences were identified when CSF protein levels and specific malfunction types were compared within the programmable valve and nonprogrammable valve groups.
In this study the authors demonstrated an annualized intrinsic programmable valve malfunction rate of 11.1%, whereas during the same period no intrinsic valve malfunctions were noted with nonprogrammable valve systems for similar causes of hydrocephalus. The CSF protein levels did not correlate with observed valve malfunction rates. Further evaluation in a prospective, randomized fashion will elucidate specific indications for programmable valve systems and better determine the reliability of these valves in the pediatric population.