Shunts to treat fluid in the abdomen (ascites)

Some cancers cause fluid to build up in the tummy (abdomen). The medical name for this is ascites. Your doctor might recommend that you have a shunt to drain this fluid. This is called a peritoneovenous 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. The fluid then returns back into the bloodstream.

Diagram showing a shunt in the abdomen to treat a build up of fluid. It is a tube that is completely inside your body. It drains fluid from the tummy into a main blood vessel. In this diagram it shows it draining into one in the neck.

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: 
26 Apr 2021
Next review due: 
26 Apr 2024
  • Royal Marsden Hospital Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures (Professional Edition) 10th edition

    S Lister, J Hofland and H Grafton

    Wiley Blackwell, 2020

  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (11th edition)
    VT DeVita, TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg
    Wolters Kluwer, 2019

  • Cancer and its Managemnet (6th edition)

    J Tobias and D Hochauser

    Wiley-Blackwell (2005)

Related links