Hydrocephalus Recovery & Rehabilitation


Our vigilance with our hydrocephalus patients is ongoing. It is important to maintain a close connection with your medical team during your recovery and rehabilitation period after your surgery.


This support system will become especially important in cases of an emergency shunt malfunction or if there is an infection. We educate our patients to become vigilant for any signs of malfunction, which we explain below.


Brain Shunt Surgery: Recovery and Side Effects

After shunt surgery, patients may feel some tenderness, tightness, or aching in related areas, such as in the neck, belly, and around the stitches or staples. Patients may also suffer headaches for a couple of weeks after surgery, and feel fluid moving around their scalp until it heals.


Patients have varying recovery times and levels of pain, which can be managed with medication. Tiredness is common. It is important to rest whenever you feel tired and help the healing process. Movement and light walking also help recovery.


For medication, you should consult your doctor first, whether it’s pain medication, blood thinners, antibiotics, or any other prescription medicine.


Your doctor will monitor your healing and the functioning of your shunt in several follow-up consultations. In some cases, your doctor may need to adjust the shunt valve and the flow of fluid drainage. A scan may also show the shunt needs to be repositioned.


Some possible side effects of shunt placement include blockages, infections, and malfunctions. Patients are taught how to identify if there is an infection or if the shunt isn’t functioning properly. Bleeding can sometimes occur around the shunt, or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) may leak alongside the shunt.


In some cases, a shunt may need to be replaced or removed. Children especially will have several replacements as they outgrow their shunts. Otherwise, without any problems, a shunt may be left in place for years.


It is advised that patients carry some kind of medical identification to indicate they have a shunt for hydrocephalus. This helps inform healthcare professionals in times of emergency. It is important to have a close connection to your medical team and to respond promptly if something doesn’t feel right.


There are other challenges associated with hydrocephalus, such as behavioral adjustments and learning difficulties. We discuss more in our articles on living with hydrocephalus and raising a child with hydrocephalus. Although there is no cure for hydrocephalus, many people go on to live independent and happy lives.


Recovery Time After Shunt Surgery

At ANA, we are pioneers in minimally invasive surgery techniques for hydrocephalus. Surgery is a quick procedure, usually less than an hour.


Recovery from a VP shunt placement takes about one to two days in the hospital. It is not uncommon to return back to work or school within a week but this depends on whether your job is sedentary or active.


It is advised to avoid heavy lifting, intense exercise, and contact sports for 4–6 weeks while recovering from hydrocephalus surgery. However, short sessions of light exercise each day are encouraged to help build up strength and regain balance.


Your doctor will advise you when it is safe to travel by plane again. Traveling by bus or car is considered safe, provided you can move around every two hours to avoid blood clots. Patients are typically not advised to drive for 4–6 weeks after shunt surgery, although this depends on what medication they are taking.


Shunt Maintenance After Hydrocephalus Surgery

At ANA, we are focused on the importance of follow-up care after shunt surgery. As part of our shunt maintenance, patients are re-evaluated on a regular basis or as needed in the presence of any post-surgical signs, symptoms or concerns, with or without imaging.


All patients and/or caregivers are educated to understand any shunt-related symptoms and encouraged to contact ANA with any concerns.


Hydrocephalus Shunt Malfunctions

Statistics show that an estimated 50% of shunts fail within two years, and 20–50% of ETVs close up within five years.


Infection may be less common but does occur. In the case of any problem or malfunction, the sooner care is sought, the better the chance of a successful outcome.


What Are the Signs of a Shunt Malfunction?

Although a shunt works well and saves lives, we recognize that complications can occur with its use.


Shunt complications include:

  • malfunction (shunt failure)
  • blockages
  • infection
  • a shunt may disconnect or break
  • a shunt may become too short or less effective over time or, for example with children, if the patient grows.


Our neurosurgeons are fully equipped to help avoid and rectify any shunt problems.


Symptoms below represent possible shunt malfunction:

  • Headaches
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy (sleepiness)
  • Irritability
  • Swelling or redness along the shunt tract
  • Seizures
  • Fever
  • Weakness or gait issues
  • Incontinence
  • Periods of confusion
  • Decreased school performance


It is important to note that more subtle signs of shunt malfunction can include:

  • fatigue
  • behavioral changes
  • lethargy
  • a decline in academic performance.


Hydrocephalus Maintenance

As we explain to those with hydrocephalus and their families, this condition can obviously affect physical, as well as cognitive development.


Our goal at ANA is to utilize our team approach for patients to benefit from educational and rehabilitation services that supplement our treatment. Our compassionate and conscientious team ensures that we guide and support patients and their families through the entire process.


Life with Hydrocephalus

Hear from one of our patients about recovering from hydrocephalus after meeting Dr. Arno Fried.