Unusual migration of the distal catheter of a ventriculoperitoneal shunt into the heart: case report

Neurosurgery. 2002 Sep;51(3):819-22; discussion 822.


Objective and importance: Placement of a ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunt is the most common form of treatment for hydrocephalus. Thoracic complications with VP shunts are rare, but we present the second documented case of the distal migration of the distal catheter of a VP shunt into the heart.

Clinical presentation: A 14-year-old boy, who underwent placement of a right occipital VP shunt at another institution after closed-head injury, presented with hypertension. Plain chest x-rays and computed tomography revealed the distal catheter to be in the right ventricle of the heart.

Intervention: A joint surgical procedure was performed with the cardiac surgery team. The cardiac surgeons created a pericardial window through a subxyphoid incision. Simultaneously, a right occipital incision was made to access the distal catheter, which was then slowly pulled out with the pericardium under direct visualization. No hemorrhage or change in the pericardium was observed, and, therefore, the need for a thoracotomy was eliminated. A new distal catheter was placed into the peritoneal cavity.

Conclusion: The migration of the distal catheter probably occurred during the initial VP shunt placement. The internal jugular vein probably was perforated by the tunneler during the creation of the distal catheter tract. Slow venous flow and negative inspiratory pressure may have gradually pulled the catheter up into the right atria and ventricle. As demonstrated by our case report, the catheter can be extracted safely in a joint procedure with cardiac surgeons, and a thoracotomy is not always necessary. The patient did not experience postoperative complications, and his hypertension was alleviated.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Foreign-Body Migration* / complications
  • Foreign-Body Migration* / diagnostic imaging
  • Foreign-Body Migration* / surgery
  • Heart*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / etiology
  • Male
  • Radiography, Thoracic
  • Reoperation
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Ventriculoperitoneal Shunt / adverse effects*