The Burden of Ionizing Radiation Studies in Children with Ventricular Shunts


To quantify the number of shunt-related imaging studies that patients with ventricular shunts undergo and to calculate the proportion of computed tomography (CT) scans associated with a surgical intervention.

Study design

Retrospective longitudinal cohort analysis of patients up to age 22 years with a shunt placed January 2002 through December 2003 at a pediatric hospital. Primary outcome was the number of head CT scans, shunt series radiograph, skull radiographs, nuclear medicine, and brain magnetic resonance imaging studies for 10 years following shunt placement. Secondary outcome was surgical interventions performed within 7 days of a head CT. Descriptive statistics were used for analysis.


Patients (n = 130) followed over 10 years comprised the study cohort. The most common reasons for shunt placement were congenital hydrocephalus (30%), obstructive hydrocephalus (19%), and atraumatic hemorrhage (18%), and 97% of shunts were ventriculoperitoneal. Patients underwent a median of 8.5 head CTs, 3.0 shunt series radiographs, 1.0 skull radiographs, 0 nuclear medicine studies, and 1.0 brain magnetic resonance imaging scans over the 10 years following shunt placement. The frequency of head CT scans was greatest in the first year after shunt placement (median 2.0 CTs). Of 1411 head CTs in the cohort, 237 resulted in surgical intervention within 7 days (17%, 95% CI 15%-19%).


Children with ventricular shunts have been exposed to large numbers of imaging studies that deliver radiation and most do not result in a surgical procedure. This suggests a need to improve the process of evaluating for ventricular shunt malfunction and minimize radiation exposure.


#ventricular shunts #pediatrics #pediatricradiation #emergency medicine


CPT: Current Procedural Terminology
CT: Computed tomography
ED: Emergency department
ICD-9-CM: International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification
MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging
rsMRI: Rapid sequence magnetic resonance imaging

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