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Shunts to drain fluid (ascites)

Shunts drain fluid from a swollen tummy (ascites).

Some cancers can make fluid build up in the tummy (abdomen). The medical name for this build up is ascites.

A shunt is a tube that stays in the abdomen for several months. It is completely inside your body. It drains fluid from the tummy into a main blood vessel, usually in the chest.

The tube is called a peritoneo-venous shunt (pronounced pear-it-oh-nee-oh vee-nus shunt).

We know from research that this type of shunt helps to reduce abdominal swelling in around 7 out of 10 people (70%) who have it.

Types of shunt

There are different types, including the Hyde shunt, LaVeen shunt and Denver shunt.

Putting the shunt in

You need to be fairly fit to have this procedure. You have a medicine to make you drowsy (a sedative) or a general anaesthetic.

Your doctor cleans the skin over one of the main veins in your neck. They inject a local anaesthetic to numb the area. They then gently pass a long needle down through the vein to widen it.

Your doctor then cleans and numbs the skin of the chest and makes a small cut. They put in a tube that has one end in the abdominal fluid and one end in the vein in the neck.

A valve in the tube allows fluid to flow from the tummy into the vein in the neck.

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Possible problems

Pain and discomfort

Your nurse can give you painkillers to reduce any pain after you have the shunt put in. Tell them if you still have pain.

Collapsed lung

There is a risk of making a hole in the lung while the doctor puts the tube in. If this happens they put a drain (tube) into the area around the lung for a few days.

Infection

You might get an infection in the cuts made to put in the tube, or in the abdomen. If you get an infection you have antibiotics. These might be as tablets or through a drip. If you get a severe infection, your doctor might take the tube out.

Tube blockage

The tube might stop draining. Changing your position or sitting upright can sometimes get rid of the blockage. If not, your doctor might need to replace the tube.

Last reviewed: 
13 Nov 2018
  • The Royal Marsden Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures (9th Edition)
    L Dougherty, S Lister (Editors), 2011

  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley Blackwell, 2015

  • PleurX peritoneal catheter drainage system for vacuum assisted drainage of treatment-resistant recurrent malignant ascites
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, November 2012

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