Fistula vs Shunt: Difference and Comparison

The term ‘hemodialysis’ (HD) refers to the process of removing wastes and other fluids from the blood in a person with a faulty kidney. A healthy kidney ordinally performs this function.

In this process, the vascular process or hemodialysis access is used to reach the blood in hemodialysis. Three types of vascular access are as follows:

  • Arteriovenous fistula
  • AV graft
  • HD catheter

Key Takeaways

  1. A fistula is an abnormal connection between two organs or vessels, while a shunt is a surgically created pathway to redirect fluid.
  2. Fistulas can occur naturally or result from injury; shunts are intentionally created for medical purposes.
  3. Treatment for fistulas may include surgery, medication, or observation; shunts require regular monitoring and possible replacement.

Fistula vs Shunt

The difference between a fistula and a shunt is that arteriovenous fistulas are made using blood vessels and the body’s tissues. On the other hand, a dialysis shunt is made using synthetic tubular material that creates a passage between a vein and an artery. The risk of infection is much less in arteriovenous fistulas than in a shunt.

Fistula vs Shunt

An arteriovenous (AV) fistula is surgically made by connecting an artery with a vein. It can be placed in the upper arm, wrist, or forearm.

It helps provide vascular access to the blood vessels by creating extra pressure through increased blood flow into the veins.

A shunt is a small channel artificially created and placed in the brain via surgery. Its main function is to allow the fluid to move freely from one part of the body to another.

It comprises a synthetic tube placed under the skin to connect the artery with the vein. It offers needle placement access for dialysis.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonFistulaShunt
DefinitionIt is an abnormal passageway an artery and a vein.It is a hollow synthetic tube placed in the brain to allow the cerebrospinal liquid to flow to other parts.
Types3 most common types of arteriovenous fistula are radiocephalic fistula, brachiocephalic fistula, and brachial artery-to-transpose basilic vein fistulaThere are five types of a shunt.
ComponentsThese do not contain any artificial components.It has 3 components created artificially using synthetic tubular material and flexible silicone.
UsesAn arteriovenous fistula is used in hemodialysisIt is used in the treatment of hydrocephalus and various other diseases
PriceLess expensiveExpensive
Infection riskLessVery high

What is Fistula?

The arteriovenous fistula connects an artery and a vein. Ordinarily, blood flows from arteries to capillaries and finally reaches the veins.

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In the presence of arteriovenous fistulas, blood directly flows to veins from arteries, skipping various capillaries in the process.

It is found in the legs, although it can develop in any part of the body.

The causes of arteriovenous fistulas are as follows:

  • Congenital, i.e., being born with it: Sometimes, babies are born with arteriovenous fistula.
  • Skin piercing injuries may occur in a piercing injury such as a stab wound or gunshot on a body part where arteries and veins run side by side.
  • Dialysis-related surgery: To ease the process of dialysis, an arteriovenous fistula is created surgically in the forearm to treat late-kidney failure.
  •  It can also be created through various genetic conditions.

The doctor regularly monitors the fistula when it is created through dialysis-related surgery.

However, if it is left untreated for long in other cases, it may cause heart failure, blood clots, leg pain, and bleeding in the gastrointestinal system.

It needs to be properly cared for. Before being used for dialysis, a surgically made fistula has to mature for 4-6 weeks or more. Certain risk factors, too, lead to the creation of an arteriovenous fistula.

What is Shunt?

A shunt is an empty tube placed surgically in the brain. This allows the cerebrospinal fluid to flow to another part of the body where it can easily be reabsorbed.

It helps to deal with hydrocephalus by addressing brain pressure and relieving the symptoms of hydrocephalus, such as mild dementia, gait difficulty, and lack of bladder control.

Different kinds of shunts are as follows:

  • Lumboperitoneal shunt 
  • Ventriculoatrial shunt
  • Ventriculopleural shunt
  • Ventriculoperitoneal shunt
  • Ventriculogallbladder shunt
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Each shunt drains excess cerebrospinal fluid to different body parts, respectively.

Various complications such as over-draining, seizures, abdominal complications, bowel perforation, pseudocyst formation, etc.

The surgical procedure requires about an hour, and then the patient is placed under surveillance for 24 hours. Follow-up visits are necessary to ensure proper functioning.

Rehabilitation strategies, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, etc., may also be advised to resolve symptoms.

Various risks and complications include blockage, infection at the wound, or shunt malfunction. Shunt malfunction includes over-or-under-drainage.

Infection at the wound may cause symptoms such as low-grade fever, redness along the path of the shunt, soreness of the neck, etc.

It can also be used in the treatment of blurry vision, idiopathic intracranial hypertension, Chiari malformation, hemorrhagic stroke, shunt infection, etc.

Main Differences Between Fistula and Shunt

  1. Fistula acts as a passageway connecting an artery and a vein, whereas a shunt is placed in the brain to allow the cerebrospinal liquid to flow to other parts of the body.
  2. There are three common types of fistula, whereas there are five types of shunts.
  3. AV fistula does not comprise any artificial component, whereas the shunt does.
  4. The main use of an arteriovenous fistula is in hemodialysis, whereas a shunt is used to treat hydrocephalus and various other diseases.
  5. AV fistula surgery is less expensive than shunt surgery.
  6. A fistula’s infection risk is much less than a shunt.

Last Updated : 20 July, 2023

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6 thoughts on “Fistula vs Shunt: Difference and Comparison”

  1. Creating an artificial passageway inside the brain through a shunt seems like a risky procedure. It’s comforting to find out that a surgically made AV fistula requires less artificial components.

  2. This article does a great job explaining the differences between these two procedures. I find it particularly interesting that the AV fistula surgery is less expensive than shunt surgery. Also, I like the fact that the author explains the possible causes of arteriovenous fistulas in a clear manner.

  3. The risks and complications of a shunt are too high. Do you think the benefits outweigh those risks? A very thoughtful decision must be made in this case.

  4. Connecting an artery with a vein seems like an effective way to filter toxins. It is good to know that other kidneys’ failures can be treated with a surgically made arteriovenous fistula.

  5. The article provides an insightful discussion on the causes and implications of arteriovenous fistulas and shunts. It does an excellent job of laying out the differences between the two.

  6. The comparison between the fistula and the shunt was very educational. I appreciate the thorough detail provided about their uses, cost, and risk of infection.


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