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Brain Surgery Questions Answered

Medically reviewed by Ramin AmirNovin, MD, Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on February 3, 2023
Additions/comments by Neurologist Steve Schadendorf, MD

Brain surgery is an invasive, high-risk surgery, and it’s not uncommon – nearly 14 million brain surgeries are required each year around the world. If you’re scheduled to undergo an operation to remove a tumor or a section of tissue from your brain, chances are you’re quite worried or scared. You probably don’t know what to expect, or if the operation will even prove successful. But in this article, you’ll get the answers to any question you might have regarding brain surgery.


What types of problems can brain surgery fix?


Brain surgery is done to fix a number of health issues. The surgery is usually to remove a tumor or blood clot, but it may also be done to repair abnormal blood vessels or tissue damage, stop hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain), or prevent infections. Brain surgery can also be done for neurological disorders such as epilepsy, and it may be performed to diagnose a brain disease by taking a sample of brain tissue and examining it in a laboratory setting.


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Is brain surgery risky?


Although brain surgery is statistically much more risky than other types of surgery, survival rates have significantly improved over the past decade. These days, people with non-malignant brain tumors have a five-year survival rate that exceeds 90% after surgery, thanks to modern medicine. Nonetheless, brain surgery carries a number of risks, including:


  • Adverse reaction to medications
  • Problems breathing
  • Bleeding, blood clotting, or infection
  • Seizure
  • Stroke
  • Coma
  • Brain swelling
  • Problems with neurological functions including speech, balance, vision, coordination, memory, and muscle movement


The risks of brain surgery depend on many different factors, including the type of surgery performed and the brain problem that is being treated. To be fully aware of your particular risks, speak with your doctor.


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Before, during, and after the procedure


Before the procedure, you will undergo a physical examination and possibly additional tests. Your doctor will then ask you if you’re pregnant or taking any medications – answer accordingly.


In the days prior to the procedure, you’ll need to stop smoking, as it may slow the healing process, and you may need to stop taking any anti-inflammatory medicines and blood thinners such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or warfarin.


In the operating room, your surgeon will shave part of your scalp and make an incision. Then, a hole will be drilled in your skull to provide access to the brain. If necessary, your surgeon will use an endoscope (a long tube with a camera) to help locate the area to be removed or worked on. During the surgery, your surgeon may remove a tumor or aneurysm, drain an infection, take a tissue sample, or perform another procedure based on your specific needs.


When the surgery is complete, the hole in your head will be covered using a metal plate or series of wires.


After the surgery, you will undergo a series of mental and physical tests to ensure that your brain is functioning as it should be. You’ll also receive pain-killing medications. In total, you will need to remain in the hospital for about 3 to 7 days.


Brain surgery is a serious procedure that is not without risks, but today’s standard of surgery has mitigated side effects as much as possible and raised chances of successful recovery. If you need brain surgery, choose a qualified surgeon to perform the operation and consult with a trusted doctor beforehand to ensure some peace of mind.

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