It is generally accepted that cerebrospinal fluid shunts fail most frequently in the first years of life. The purpose of this study was to describe the risk of shunt failure for a given patient age in a well-defined cohort with shunted hydrocephalus due to myelomeningocele (MMC).
The authors analyzed data from their institutional spina bifida research database including all patients with MMC and shunted hydrocephalus. For the entire population, the number of shunt revisions in each year of life was determined. Then the number of patients at risk for shunt revision during each year of life was calculated, thus enabling them to calculate the rate of shunt revision per patient in each year of life. In this way, the timing of all shunt revision operations for the entire clinic population and the likelihood of having a shunt revision during each year of life were calculated.
A total of 655 patients were enrolled in the spina bifida research database, 519 of whom had a diagnosis of MMC and whose mean age was 17.48 ± 11.7 years (median 16 years, range 0–63 years). Four hundred seventeen patients had had a CSF shunt for the treatment of hydrocephalus and thus are included in this analysis. There were 94 shunt revisions in the 1st year of life, which represents a rate of 0.23 revisions per patient in that year. The rate of shunt revision per patient-year initially decreased as age increased, except for an increase in revision frequency in the early teen years. Shunt revisions continued to occur as late as 43 years of age.
These data substantiate the idea that shunt revision surgeries in patients with MMC are most common in the 1st year of life and decrease thereafter, except for an increase in the early teen years. A persistent risk of shunt failure was observed well into adult life. These findings underscore the importance of routine follow-up of all MMC patients with shunted hydrocephalus and will aid in counseling patients and families.