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Brain surgery

Brain surgery is an operation to treat problems in the brain and surrounding structures.

Before surgery, the hair on part of the scalp is shaved and the area is cleaned. The doctor makes a surgical cut through the scalp. The location of this cut depends on where the problem in the brain is located.

The surgeon creates a hole in the skull and removes a bone flap.

If possible, the surgeon will make a smaller hole and insert a tube with a light and camera on the end. This is called an endoscope. The surgery will be done with tools placed through the endoscope. MRI or CT  scan can help guide the doctor to the proper place in the brain.

During surgery, your surgeon may:

  • Clip off an aneurysm to prevent blood flow
  • Remove a tumor or a piece of tumor for a biopsy
  • Remove abnormal brain tissue
  • Drain blood or an infection
  • Free a nerve

The bone flap is usually replaced after surgery, using small metal plates, sutures, or wires. The bone flap may not be put back if your surgery involved a tumor or an infection, or if the brain was swollen. (This is called a craniectomy.)

The time it takes for the surgery depends on the problem being treated.

Alternative Names

Craniotomy; Surgery - brain; Neurosurgery; Craniectomy; Stereotactic craniotomy; Stereotactic brain biopsy; Endoscopic craniotomy

Why the Procedure Is Performed

Brain surgery may be done if you have:

  • Brain tumor
  • Bleeding (hemorrhage) in the brain
  • Blood clots (hematomas ) in the brain
  • Weaknesses in blood vessels (brain aneurysm repair )
  • Abnormal blood vessels in the brain (arteriovenous malformations; AVM)
  • Damage to tissues covering the brain (dura)
  • Infections in the brain (brain abscesses )
  • Severe nerve or face pain (such as trigeminal neuralgia or tic douloureux )
  • Skull fracture
  • Pressure in the brain after an injury or stroke
  • Epilepsy
  • Certain brain diseases (such as Parkinson disease) that may be helped with an implanted electronic device
  • Hydrocephalus

Risks

Risks for any anesthesia are:

  • Reactions to medications
  • Problems breathing

Possible risks of brain surgery are:

  • Surgery on any one area may cause problems with speech, memory, muscle weakness , balance, vision, coordination, and other functions. These problems may last a short while or they may not go away.
  • Blood clot or bleeding in the brain
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Coma
  • Infection in the brain, in the wound, or in the skull
  • Brain swelling

Before the Procedure

Your doctor will examine you, and may order laboratory and x-ray tests.

Tell your doctor or nurse:

  • If you could be pregnant
  • What drugs you are taking, even drugs, supplements, vitamins, or herbs you bought without a prescription
  • If you have been drinking a lot of alcohol
  • If you take aspirin or anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen
  • If you have allergies or reactions to medications or iodine

During the days before the surgery:

  • You may be asked to stop taking aspirin, ibuprofen, warfarin (Coumadin), and any other medicines that make it hard for your blood to clot.
  • Ask your doctor which drugs you should still take on the day of the surgery.
  • Try to stop smoking. Ask your doctor for help.
  • Your doctor or nurse may ask you to wash your hair with a special shampoo the night before surgery.

On the day of the surgery:

  • You will likely be asked not to drink or eat anything for 8 to 12 hours before the surgery.
  • Take the drugs your doctor told you to take with a small sip of water.
  • Arrive at the hospital on time.

After the Procedure

After surgery, you will be closely monitored by your health care team to make sure your brain is working properly. The doctor or nurse may ask you questions, shine a light in your eyes, and ask you to do simple tasks. You may need oxygen for a few days.

The head of your bed will be kept raised to help reduce swelling of your face or head. The swelling is normal after surgery.

Medicines will be given to relieve pain.

You will usually stay in the hospital for 3 to 7 days. You may need physical therapy (rehabilitation).

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well you do after brain surgery depends on the condition being treated, your general health, which part of the brain is involved, and the specific type of surgery.

References

Gasco J, Mohanty A, Hanbali F, Patterson JT. Neurosurgey. In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 68.

Updated: 2/27/2013

Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, Department of Neurosurgery, Cedars Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles and Department of Anatomy, University of California, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


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