Comparison and Contrast Between Stents and Shunts

A stent and a shunt are both medical devices used to improve the flow of body fluids in different parts of the body. However, they differ in terms of how they work and the conditions they treat. Here’s an in-depth, somewhat pictorial overview of how they compare with each other.

What is a Stent?

A stent is a small, expandable tube made of metal or plastic that is inserted into a narrowed or blocked blood vessel to help restore normal blood flow. Stents are commonly used to treat conditions such as coronary artery disease, where a buildup of plaque inside the arteries can restrict blood flow to the heart. The stent is inserted into the affected artery using a catheter and then expanded to open up the artery and hold it in place, thereby improving blood flow. Stents can also be used in other areas of the body, such as the carotid arteries in the neck, to prevent stroke or in the ureters to help drain urine from the kidneys.

What is a Shunt?

Image courtesy: OPENPediatrics

A shunt is a small tube used to redirect fluid from one area of the body to another. Shunts are most commonly used to treat hydrocephalus, a condition in which excess cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) accumulates in the brain, causing pressure to build up, potentially leading to brain damage. The shunt is surgically implanted into the brain to allow the excess CSF to drain into the abdominal cavity or another part of the body where it can be absorbed.

Ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunt relieves hydrocephalus by draining excess cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from the hollow spaces inside the brain, called ventricles.

Shunts can also be used to treat other conditions, such as portal hypertension, where a shunt is placed between the portal vein and the hepatic veins or the inferior vena cava to reduce pressure in the portal vein. In this case, a shunt acts as a bypass, providing an alternative channel for the blood in the portal vein to flow back into the heart.

Stent and Shunt Similarities

  • Both devices are designed to restore the normal flow of fluid or blood in the body.
  • Both require surgical intervention to insert the device.
  • Both devices can become clogged or blocked, which can lead to complications.

Stent and Shunt Differences

The main difference between a stent and a shunt is that the former is used to keep blood vessels or ducts open, while the latter is used to redirect the flow of fluid.

Additionally, stents are typically used in the cardiovascular system, while shunts are typically used in the brain.


Both stents and shunts are used to improve blood flow in the body, but they differ in their mechanism of action and the specific medical conditions they are used to treat. Stents are used to open up narrowed or blocked blood vessels, while shunts are used to redirect fluid from one area of the body to another.

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