The failure-free survival of ventriculoperitoneal shunts (VPSs) following externalization for distal catheter infection or malfunction has not been adequately explored. Conversion to a ventriculoatrial shunt (VAS) may allow earlier reinternalization in lieu of waiting for the peritoneum to be suitable for reimplantation. This option is tempered by historical concerns regarding high rates of VAS failure, and the risks of rare complications are rampant.
In this retrospective cohort study, all patients undergoing externalization of a VPS at a single institution between 2005 and 2020 were grouped according to the new distal catheter terminus location at the time of reinternalization (VPS vs VAS). The primary outcomes were failure-free shunt survival and duration of shunt externalization. Secondary outcomes included early (< 6 months) shunt failure.
Among 36 patients, 43 shunt externalization procedures were performed. Shunts were reinternalized as VPSs in 25 cases and VASs in 18 cases. The median failure-free survival was 1002 (interquartile range [IQR] 161–3449) days for VPSs and 1163 (IQR 360–2927) days for VASs. There was no significant difference in shunt survival according to the new distal catheter terminus (log-rank, p = 0.73). Conversion to a VAS was not associated with shorter duration of shunt externalization (Wilcoxon rank-sum, p = 0.64); the median duration was 7 (IQR 5–11) days for VPSs and 8 (IQR 6–15) days for VASs. No rare complications occurred in the VAS group.
Shunt failure-free survival rates following externalization are similar to published survival rates for nonexternalized shunts. There was no significant difference in survival between reinternalized VPSs and VASs. Although the VAS was not associated with a shortened duration of externalization, this finding is confounded by strong institutional preference for the VPS over the VAS. Early conversion to the VAS may be a viable treatment option in light of reassuring modern VAS survival data.