Risk factors for repeated cerebrospinal shunt failures in pediatric patients with hydrocephalus

Sagun Tuli M.D. 1 , James Drake F.R.C.S.(C) 1 , Jerry Lawless Ph.D. 1 , Melanie Wigg M.Math., M.Sc. 1 and Maria Lamberti-Pasculli R.N. 1
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  • 1 Division of Neurosurgery, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; and Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada
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Object. Repeated cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) shunt failures in pediatric patients are common, and they are a significant cause of morbidity and, occasionally, of death. To date, the risk factors for repeated failure have not been established. By performing survival analysis for repeated events, the authors examined the effects of patient characteristics, shunt hardware, and surgical details in a large cohort of patients.

Methods. During a 10-year period all pediatric patients with hydrocephalus requiring CSF diversion procedures were included in a prospective single-institution observational study. Patient characteristics were defined as age, gender, weight, head circumference, American Society of Anesthesiology class, and cause of hydrocephalus. Surgical details included whether the procedure was performed on an emergency or nonemergency basis, use of antibiotic agents, concurrent surgical procedures, and duration of the surgical procedure. Details on shunt hardware included: the type of shunt, the valve system, whether the shunt system included multiple or complex components, the type of distal catheter, the site of the shunt, and the side on which the shunt was placed.

Repeated shunt failures were assessed using multivariable time-to-event analysis (by using the Cox regression model). Conditional models (as established by Prentice, et al.) were formulated for gap times (that is, times between successive shunt failures).

There were 1183 shunt failures in 839 patients. Failure time from the first shunt procedure was an important predictor for the second and third episodes of failure, thus establishing an association between the times to failure within individual patients. An age younger than 40 weeks gestation at the time of the first shunt implantion carried a hazard ratio (HR) of 2.49 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.68–3.68) for the first failure, which remained high for subsequent episodes of failure. An age from 40 weeks gestation to 1 year (at the time of the initial surgery) also proved to be an important predictor of first shunt malfunctions (HR 1.77, 95% CI 1.29–2.44). The cause of hydrocephalus was significantly associated with the risk of initial failure and, to a lesser extent, later failures. Concurrent other surgical procedures were associated with an increased risk of failure.

Conclusions. The patient's age at the time of initial shunt placement and the time interval since previous surgical revision are important predictors of repeated shunt failures in the multivariable model. Even after adjusting for age at first shunt insertion as well as the cause of hydrocephalus, there is significant association between repeated failure times for individual patients.

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Contributor Notes

Address reprint requests to: James Drake, F.R.C.S.(C), The Hospital for Sick Children, 555 University Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, M5G 1X8, Canada.
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