This investigation is aimed at gaining a better understanding of the factors that lead to mechanical failure of shunts used for the treatment of hydrocephalus, including shunt catheter-valve disconnection and shunt catheter fracture.
To determine the root cause of mechanical failure, the authors created a benchtop mechanical model to mimic mechanical stressors on a shunt system. To test shunt fracture, cyclical loading on the catheter-valve connection site was tested with the shunt catheter held perpendicular to the valve. Standard methods were used to secure the catheter and valves with Nurolon. These commercial systems were compared to integrated catheters and valves (manufactured as one unit). To test complete separation/disconnection of the shunt catheter and valve, a parallel displacement test was conducted using both Nurolon and silk sutures. Finally, the stiffness of the catheters was assessed. All mechanical investigations were conducted on shunts from two major shunt companies, assigned as either company A or company B.
Cyclical loading experiments found that shunts from company B fractured after a mean of 4936 ± 1725 cycles (95% CI 2990–6890 cycles), while those of company A had not failed after 8000 cycles. The study of parallel displacement indicated complete disconnection of company B’s shunt catheter-valve combination using Nurolon sutures after being stretched an average 32 ± 5.68 mm (95% CI 25.6–38.4 mm), whereas company A’s did not separate using either silk or Nurolon sutures. During the stiffness experiments, the catheters of company B had statistically significantly higher stiffness of 13.23 ± 0.15 N compared to those of company A, with 6.16 ± 0.29 N (p < 0.001).
Mechanical shunt failure from shunt catheter-valve disconnection or fracture is a significant cause of shunt failure. This study demonstrates, for the first time, a correlation between shunt catheters that are less mechanically stiff and those that are less likely to disconnect from the valve when outstretched and are also less likely to tear when held at an angle from the valve outlet. The authors propose an intervention to the standard of care wherein less stiff catheters are trialed to reduce disconnection.