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Peter W. Carmel, A. Leland Albright, P. David Adelson, Alexa Canady, Peter Black, William Boydston, David Kneirim, Bruce Kaufman, Marion Walker, Mark Luciano, Ian F. Pollack, Kim Manwaring, M. Peter Heilbrun, I. Richmond Abbott and Harold Rekate

Shunt systems with differential pressure valves are prone to the complications of overdrainage. A programmable valve permits adjustment of the opening pressure of the valve. In this paper the authors report the incidence of subdural fluid collections in a randomized trial of programmable compared with conventional valves, and they describe methodologies used in management of this complication.

A multiinstitutional, prospective, randomized trial of the Codman Hakim programmable valve and conventional fixed-pressure valves was undertaken. Two classes were defined: “new” and “replacement” valves. Randomization of the type of valve in each group was performed at each study site. Clinical and radiological studies were required at fixed intervals over a 104-week period. All complications were reported. The experimental valves were required to be reprogrammed after magnetic resonance imaging studies, but all other decisions regarding pressure setting were left to each investigator.

Three hundred seventy-seven patients were randomized; 194 were treated with a programmable valve and 183 with a fixed-pressure valve. The two groups were statistically similar in demographic composition, as were the “new” and “replacement” categories. The investigators made 540 valve pressure changes (five per patient; range one-41 changes). More than half of the reprogramming adjustments were made in the first 3 months postplacement; 70% were made within 6 months. More than half of all reprogramming adjustments were required in a group of 30 patients.

Four treatment modalities were observed: 1) 30% of the fluid collections resolved spontaneously (25% in the patients with programmable valves and 36.3% in those with conventional valves) and were largely found to be hygromas in infants and children; 2) four subdural fluid collections were unresolved and under observation; 3) the subdural hematoma was drained and the shunt removed (in 8.3% of patients with the programmable valve and 36.3% of those with the control valve); 4) the pressure of programmable valve was raised in 58% of patients (seven of 12), and this increase in opening pressure was a feature used by investigators to affect treatment.

There was no significant difference in the incidence of subdural fluid collections between the programmable and fixed-pressure valve treatment groups. The programmable feature provided a considerable advantage in treatment when subdural collections occurred.