Brain surgery recovery time

Updated November 21, 2016

Brain surgery (or a craniotomy) is perhaps one of the most frightening operations to undergo. Recovery time will vary by individual, and also will depend on the specific procedure. Some people can expect to make a full recovery in eight weeks, and partial recovery in one to four weeks. You may spend a year or more in recovery. Before your surgery, enlist the support of family or close friends to help you during your recovery.

General recovery

Immediately after surgery, patients will be watched closely in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Most patients will be on IV fluids as well as pain medications. Doctors and nurses will monitor intracranial pressure along with vital signs. Patients who are awake, alert and stable will usually move to a regular hospital room. Nurses or doctors may perform several neurologic examinations to make sure your recovery is going as planned. Expect the sutures in your scalp to be removed in about a week. Some patients are able to return home after their hospital stay; others may need to spend some time in a rehabilitation centre. Once at home, some patients experience emotional changes after surgery. Many feel tired and discouraged. It is important to have the support of family or friends for emotional support and to help with day-to-day tasks that you may not be strong enough for at first. Some doctors may prescribe anticonvulsants to help prevent seizures, or steroids to combat swelling. Doctors suggest brain surgery for a variety of problems, including brain tumour, blood clots in the brain, too much pressure in the brain, to implant electrodes, reconstruction of the skull, brain aneurysm, stroke, bleeding in the brain, pituitary tumours, infection or build-up of fluid. Some of these reasons require immediate treatment.

After a Brain Tumor

Your hospital stay will likely be several days. For patients who had a tumour removed from the lower or deeper section of the brain, the stay may be longer. Depending on the type of brain tumour and its location in the brain, patients may begin additional treatment -- such as chemotherapy -- two weeks after surgery. This is usually done as an outpatient procedure. Your doctor will advise you on when you can return to work and other activities, but since stimulating the brain helps it heal, some patients are encouraged to return to work within a week of surgery. Your recovery likely will involve follow-up appointments and treatments to make sure the tumour does not return.

After Altering Blood Flow

This type of surgery is typically used for patients who have suffered a stroke, hematoma or haemorrhage in the brain. Much of the recovery following a stroke and surgery involves preventing another stroke. Your recovery time will be infinite, as prevention is ongoing. Your doctor will advise you on when it is OK to resume work or other normal activities. Some stroke patients may have permanent damage. To help prevent future strokes, limit alcohol intake, quit smoking and monitor your blood pressure. Eat a balanced diet of foods low in sodium and, as soon as your doctor gives you the go-ahead, start an exercise program. Your doctor may start you on medications to control blood pressure or prevent additional blood clots from forming.

After Hydrocephalus

Hydrocephalus is an abnormal build-up of cerebrospinal fluid, which can be caused by various infections. It also occurs in children, sometimes immediately after birth. Surgery for this condition may include putting in a shunt to redirect the fluid away from the brain. You will likely need several follow-up appointments during recovery to make sure the shunt is working correctly. Shunts may become clogged or otherwise fail to work, so consult your doctor if you begin experiencing strange symptoms. Some patients will show a dramatic improvement immediately after surgery; many symptoms like headaches or even dementia may disappear. You may be able to return to work and other activities within days of surgery.

Reasons for Extended Recovery Times

In some cases, there may be various side effects and complications from brain surgery. You may lose your memory, speech or understanding. Weakness and nerve paralysis are also possible, along with damage to blood vessels and brain tissue. These complications may be temporary or even permanent. You will be put under general anaesthesia for the surgery, which comes with its own set of risks. Some doctors will recommend that during your recovery you avoid travelling and vigorous exercise. It is not uncommon for patients to experience headaches after surgery. Your brain has experienced trauma, so it may take time for headaches to fade. In addition, you may have some itching around your incision site and even some numbness. Dizziness, fatigue and short-term memory loss are also common. Call your doctor if you run a fever, experience sudden severe headaches, have drainage from your incision site, a seizure or a stiff neck.

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About the Author

Karen Taylor is a visual journalist, page designer and horse-lover in central Indiana. She designs pages for an area newspaper including feature pages and page A1. She has had a passion for journalism her entire life and enjoys both the design and writing aspects of the industry. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Ball State University in visual journalism.