I can hear my shunt—audible noises associated with CSF shunts in hydrocephalic patients

Acta Neurochir (2017) 159:981–986

Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) shunts are life-long implants, and patients have reported anecdotally on noises associated with their shunts. There is, however, a marked lack of information regarding acoustic phenomena related to CSF shunts.

Methods We identified all patients who had been treated or followed in our neurosurgical department within a 15-year period from January 2000 up to the end of 2014. After approval of the local ethics committee all patients who were cognitively intact were explored by a questionnaire and by personal interview about acoustic phenomena related to their shunts.

Results Three hundred forty-seven patients were eligible for the survey, and 260 patients completed the questionnaire. Twenty-nine patients (11.2%) reported on noises raised by their shunts. All of them experienced short-lasting noises while changing body posture, mainly from a horizontal to an upright position, or while reclining the head. Most of the patients reported on soft sounds, but loud and even very loud noises occurred in some patients. Seventy-six percent of the patients were not bothered by these noises as they considered it as a normal part of the therapy or as proof that the shunt device was functioning. Modern valves with gravitational units are prone to produce noises in young adults, but nearly all valve types can evoke noises.

Conclusions Noises caused by a shunt do occur in a considerable number of patients with shunts. One should be aware of this phenomenon, and these patients must be taken seriously.