Categories: Neurosurgery

Road to Recovery After Brain Surgery

Recovery post-surgery

Duration required for recovery depends on the type of procedure performed. The duration of hospital stay post brain operation typically is for a week to ten days. The duration of hospitalization depends on how well your body recovers and responds to surgery. Right after surgery, you will be closely monitored to ensure the normal functioning of brain activities.

You will be made to sit and lie down with elevation of the head in order to avoid swelling of your face and brain. You will be given pain medications during this period. Before leaving the hospital, the doctor will advise you on precautions to take and how to take care of your wound.

The swelling of the brain is expected, and steroids may be prescribed. However, steroids may come with a set of side-effects such as insomnia or difficulty in sleeping, sweating, agitation, and over-eating. It is crucial to report these symptoms to the doctor, so the dosage and frequency of medication can be titrated accordingly.

Recurrent headaches should also be reported as it can be a sign of swelling or a new tumour in the brain. Some people may show a complete recovery after treatment, while some may have to live with permanent changes for the rest of their life which require adjustments. Examples include not being able to do their daily tasks or perform at work with the same efficiency as before.

Possible risks of brain surgery include:

  • Bleeding in the brain
  • Formation of a blood clot
  • Swelling of the brain, known as oedema
  • Coma
  • Impaired coordination, speech, vision or balance
  • Infection in the brain, known as encephalitis, or at the wound site
  • Memory problems
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Allergic reaction to anaesthesia

Precautions to observe after brain surgery

Activity:

People regularly ask, “How much will I be able to do?” This is a difficult question to answer because it differs based on the type of surgery and the individual’s ability to recover. Regular exercise is important to keep circulation within the limbs and to prevent the formation of blood clots. Deep breathing exercises are also a must to avoid developing lung infections.

The general advice given is as follows:

Increase your activity level slowly
If you feel light-headed or tired after exercising, make sure that you get some rest, and decrease the amount of activity you are doing. You may need to increase your tolerance to exercise slowly.
Do not drive until you are given the green signal from your treating doctor.
You may resume sexual activity when you feel ready for it.
Avoid activities such as lifting or moving heavy weights or straining when you pass stools.
Always listen to your body, and do not try to push yourself.

Wound care:

Keep your wound clean and dry at all times. Ask someone to check it every day to look for any signs of oozing or infection. Washing your hair is permitted as long as you do not scrape off the scab. Avoid direct heat from a hairdryer for the first few weeks. Avoid hair dye or any chemicals until you have fully recovered. You will need to visit the clinic to get your sutures or staples removed when the doctor says so.

Side-effects:

Headaches:

Headaches can be due to two reasons:

  1. The site of the wound can cause pain due to the incision, and the sutures or staples applied. This is normal and can be controlled by painkillers.

2. Pressure changes in the cranial cavity due to the surgery can also cause headaches. Low pressure is due to the cutting open of the dura or the protective membranes that are present over the brain. This causes the spillage of some cerebrospinal fluid, which leads to low-pressure headaches. On the other hand, there are high-pressure headaches that are due to oedema, or swelling of the brain in response to the surgery. This cannot be relieved by medication, and you will be asked to consult your neurologist to manage this pain.

Nausea and vomiting:

Nausea and vomiting are sensations that are felt due to changes in the internal pressure of the skull. These are easily relieved by medication.

Loss of balance:

The imbalance is experienced in the early days post-surgery and usually improves as you recover. Communicate with your consultant if this problem persists.

Constipation:

This can be due to the side-effect of the painkillers or due to the fact that your movements and activities are restricted, and this has affected your bowel movements. Drink plenty of water and fluids and include fibre in your diet to avoid constipation as straining increased intracranial pressure. You may also be given medications to soften stools or improve bowel movements.

Follow-up appointments:

It is essential to not miss your scheduled follow-up visits post-surgery. These visits are usually advised every few months to check how you are recovering and to address any of your concerns or worries.

Dr. Kiran M, Assistant Professor – Neurosurgery | Mazumdar Shaw Medical Center, Bommasandra, Bangalore

Narayana Health

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