Brain Surgery

What is brain surgery?

The term “brain surgery” refers to various medical procedures that involve repairing structural problems in the brain.

There are numerous types of brain surgery. The type used is based on the area of the brain and the condition being treated. Advances in medical technology have enabled surgeons to operate on portions of the brain without a single incision in or near the head.

Brain surgery is a critical and complicated process. The type of brain surgery done depends highly on the condition being treated. For example, a brain aneurysm can be repaired using a catheter that’s introduced into an artery in the groin. If the aneurysm has ruptured, an open surgery called craniotomy may be used. Surgeons, while being as careful and thorough as possible, treat each surgery on a case-by-case basis.

Why brain surgery is done

Brain surgery is done to correct physical abnormalities in the brain. These can be due to birth defect, disease, injury, or other problems.

You may need brain surgery if you have any of the following conditions in or around the brain:

  • abnormal blood vessels
  • an aneurysm
  • bleeding
  • blood clots
  • damage to the protective tissue called the “dura”
  • epilepsy
  • abscesses
  • nerve damage or nerve irritation
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • pressure after head injury
  • skull fracture
  • a stroke
  • brain tumors
  • fluid building up in the brain

Not all of these conditions require brain surgery, but many may be helped by it, especially if they pose a risk for more serious health problems. For example, a brain aneurysm doesn’t require open brain surgery, but you may need open surgery if the vessel ruptures.

Types of brain surgery

There are several different types of brain surgery. The type used depends on the problem being treated.


A craniotomy involves making an incision in the scalp and creating a hole known as a bone flap in the skull. The hole and incision are made near the area of the brain being treated.

During open brain surgery, your surgeon may opt to:

  • remove tumors
  • clip off an aneurysm
  • drain blood or fluid from an infection
  • remove abnormal brain tissue

When the procedure is complete, the bone flap is usually secured in place with plates, sutures, or wires. The hole may be left open in the case of tumors, infection, or brain swelling. When left open, the procedure is known as a craniectomy.


This procedure is used to remove a small amount of brain tissue or a tumor so it can be examined under a microscope. This involves a small incision and hole in the skull.

Minimally invasive endonasal endoscopic surgery

This type of surgery allows your surgeon to remove tumors or lesions through your nose and sinuses. It allows them to access parts of your brain without making an incision. The procedure involves the use of an endoscope, which is a telescopic device equipped with lights and a camera so the surgeon can see where they’re working. Your doctor can use this for tumors on the pituitary gland, tumors on the base of the skull, and tumors growing at the bottom part of the brain.

Minimally invasive neuroendoscopy

Similar to minimally invasive endonasal endoscopic surgery, neuroendoscopy uses endoscopes to remove brain tumors. Your surgeon may make small, dime-sized holes in the skull to access parts of your brain during this surgery.

Deep brain stimulation

As with a biopsy, this procedure involves making a small hole in the skull, but instead of removing a piece of tissue, your surgeon will insert a small electrode into a deep portion of the brain. The electrode will be connected to a battery at the chest, like a pacemaker, and electrical signals will be transmitted to help symptoms of different disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease.

The risks of brain surgery

All surgical procedures carry some risk. Brain surgery is a major medical event. It carries extra risk.

Possible risks associated with brain surgery include:

  • allergic reaction to anesthesia
  • bleeding in the brain
  • a blood clot
  • brain swelling
  • coma
  • impaired speech, vision, coordination, or balance
  • infection in the brain or at the wound site
  • memory problems
  • seizures
  • stroke

How to prepare for brain surgery

Your doctor will give you complete instructions on how to prepare for the procedure.

Tell your doctor about any medications you’re taking, including over-the-counter medicine and nutritional supplements. You most likely will have to stop taking these medications in the days before the procedure. Tell your doctor about any prior surgeries or allergies, or if you’ve been drinking a lot of alcohol.

You may be given a special soap to wash your hair with before surgery. Be sure to pack whatever belongings you may need while you stay at the hospital.

Finding a doctor for brain surgery

Looking for doctors with the most experience performing brain surgery? Use the doctor search tool below, powered by our partner Amino. You can find the most experienced doctors, filtered by your insurance, location, and other preferences. Amino can also help book your appointment for free.

Following up after brain surgery

Immediately after the surgery, you’ll be closely monitored to ensure everything is working properly. You’ll be seated in a raised position to prevent swelling in your face and brain.

Recovery from brain surgery depends on the type of procedure done. A typical hospital stay for brain surgery can last up to a week or more. The length of your hospital stay will depend on how well your body responds to the surgery. You’ll be on pain medications during this time.

Before you leave the hospital, your doctor will explain the next steps of the process. This will include how to care for the surgical wound, if you have one.

Brain Surgery for Epilepsy


Your doctor may recommend brain surgery to treat epilepsy if you have seizures that medications can’t control. You must have tried two or more medications without success to qualify.

Brain surgery for epilepsy has a high success rate. It may significantly improve your quality of life.

Epilepsy can vary greatly from one person to another. Numerous types of surgery are available to treat it including:

  • resective surgery
  • multiple subpial transection
  • hemispherectomy
  • corpus callosotomy

Your doctor can help you understand the potential benefits and risks of surgical options.

Resective Surgery

Resective surgery is the most common type of surgery for treating epilepsy. If you have epilepsy, your doctor can use MRI to learn where seizures occur in your brain. Using resective surgery, they can surgically remove the part of your brain where seizures happen. They’ll likely remove an area roughly the size of a golf ball. They may also remove a brain lesion, a brain lobe, or a portion of a brain lobe.

The most common type of resective surgery is a temporal lobectomy. It’s the most successful form of surgery for epilepsy. It may reduce the number of seizures you have while limiting your risk of permanent brain damage.

Multiple subpial transection

A multiple subpial transection is a rare procedure. Surgeons only perform this surgery on people who have severe and frequent seizures. It involves cutting parts of your brain to prevent the spread of seizures. It may be more effective than resective surgery if your seizures don’t always start in the same part of your brain. Your doctor may also recommend it if your surgeon can’t remove a small part of your brain because of its vitality.


Hemispherectomy can be described as “the most radical type of epilepsy surgery.” In this procedure, a surgeon removes the outer layer of one entire side of your brain. It’s used when an entire side of your brain is damaged from seizures. The most common candidates for this type of surgery are younger children, babies born with brain damage, and older children with severe seizures.

The earlier in life you have this surgery, the better your long-term outcome will be.

Corpus callosotomy

Corpus callosotomy is different from other types of brain surgery for epilepsy because it can’t stop your seizures. Instead, its purpose is to decrease the severity of your seizures. By cutting the nerve fibers between the two sides of your brain, your surgeon can help stop seizures from spreading from one hemisphere to the other. By stopping the spread of seizures throughout your brain, they can help make your seizures less severe.

Corpus callosotomy is most often used in children who’ve bad seizures that start in one half of their brain and spread to the other.

Risks of brain surgery

Brain surgery offers potential benefits that may improve your quality of life, but it also involves serious risks. The risks may include:

  • infection
  • stroke
  • paralysis
  • speech problems
  • loss of vision
  • loss of motor skills
  • more seizures

Different types of brain surgery involve different risks. A hemispherectomy can affect your vision and movement. Removal of a specific lobe can cause speech and memory issues. Some people who choose corpus callosotomy experience more seizures after surgery. It’s important to weigh the potential benefits and risks with your doctor.

What to expect after surgery

Brain surgery is a major procedure that requires adequate recovery. If you have brain surgery, you shouldn’t plan on participating in normal activities for several weeks afterward. You’ll need to work your way up to regular levels of physical activity.

The recovery time for brain surgery can be long, most patients experience:

  • a hospital stay lasting three to four days after surgery
  • severe pain for a few days after surgery
  • moderate pain and swelling for several weeks
  • time off school or work for up to three months

You may need to continue taking antiseizure medications for at least a couple of years after your surgery.

Despite the lengthy recovery time, brain surgery can be worth it for people with epilepsy. Talk to your doctor if you think you might be a good candidate. They can help you understand the potential benefits and risks of surgery, as well as your long-term outlook.

Craniotomy Surgery

A craniotomy is type of brain surgery. It involves removing part of the skull, or cranium, to access the brain. The bone is replaced when the surgery is done.

In general, a craniotomy is done to remove brain tumors and treat aneurysms.

A neurosurgeon performs the procedure. In this article, we’ll explore the types of craniotomies, along with the possible risks and recovery process.

Craniotomy procedure

Here’s what a craniotomy typically involves:

Before the procedure

To prepare for the surgery, you’ll have one or more preoperative appointments with your neurosurgeon.

They’ll use various tests to confirm you can safely undergo the procedure. This will likely include:

  • physical exam
  • blood tests
  • neurological exam
  • imaging of the brain (CT or MRI)