Brain surgery is a procedure that treats tumors, leaky blood vessels, aneurysms or epilepsy. There are different types of brain surgeries that are both invasive and noninvasive so a surgeon can access your brain. You may be awake during brain surgery. Brain surgery takes careful planning and rehabilitation to help you feel better.
Brain surgery is a procedure that treats brain abnormalities or issues within your brain and the surrounding areas. The brain is part of your central nervous system. It controls your ability to speak, move, think and remember. Brain surgery treats underlying conditions in, on or around your brain without disrupting your body’s important functions.
There may be several reasons why someone would need brain surgery. A surgeon might remove some of your brain (for seizures) or a growth in your brain (brain tumor). Brain surgery can relieve pressure on your brain, whether it be from blood or increased cerebrospinal fluid (hydrocephalus). Surgeons can also treat blood vessels that are abnormal, such as aneurysms.
Risks are possible with brain surgery and you’ll need to stay in the hospital after your procedure so your care team can monitor your healing.
A neurosurgeon will perform brain surgery. They’ll have a team of highly trained medical professionals supporting them during surgery, along with an anesthesiologist who will provide anesthesia so you don’t feel pain.
There are many types of brain surgery. Some of the most common include:
There are many reasons why you may need to have brain surgery. Some of the most common include:
You may also have a range of imaging tests, such as:
These imaging tests create highly detailed pictures of the tissues, nerves and blood vessels in your brain. The pictures help your surgeon locate the exact areas that need treatment.
Before your surgery, your surgeon will give you information about:
The brain surgery procedure varies based on the type of brain surgery you need. Your surgeon will explain what will happen during your surgery when you meet with them before the date of your procedure.
You can expect the following during open brain surgery:
If you’re undergoing endovascular surgery or a neuroendoscopy, your surgeon won’t make an incision on your head and they won’t need to open your skull. Instead, they’ll use specialized tools and techniques to reach your brain through your nose, mouth or blood vessels in your groin.
You may be awake for brain surgery.
Some types of brain surgery require general anesthesia, which means you’re completely unconscious and asleep. But other procedures only need sedation, meaning you’re partially asleep but can still respond to certain stimuli.
During certain surgeries, you need to be awake. This is the case for some tumors, epilepsy, deep brain stimulation or neurological conditions. When you’re awake, you’ll receive anesthetic on your head, so you don’t feel pain from the incision. You’ll also receive sedation to put you into a light sleep. Your surgeon and anesthesiologist will wake you up during the surgery and ask you to perform tasks. You may need to speak, move a body part, look at objects or remember information. This process helps your surgeon avoid important areas of the brain during surgery.
The location of the incision (cut) during brain surgery depends on what your surgeon needs to treat. Sometimes brain surgery requires opening your skull to make an incision in your brain. But many procedures can access your brain through your nose or mouth. Minimally invasive brain surgery poses fewer risks than open brain surgery and helps you heal faster.
Brain surgery can take anywhere from two to six hours or more, depending on the complexity of your surgery.
After brain surgery, you’ll stay in the hospital for observation. For less invasive procedures like endovascular surgery, you might only need to stay for one to two days. But after an open craniotomy, you might need to stay in the hospital for up to 10 days. You may be in intensive care after open brain surgery overnight so your care team can monitor your vitals before you move to another area of the hospital to rest.
While in recovery, you may feel tired, sore or have a headache. Your care team will give you medications to help you feel comfortable. Your healthcare providers may recommend you continue taking medications they prescribed to you before your surgery to make sure you don’t have complications.
You can expect to get regular imaging tests of your brain after surgery. You’ll also schedule times to meet with your care team within days, weeks and months so they can continue to monitor your healing progress.
Rehabilitation may be part of your recovery. This can help you restore certain functions that surgery may affect, like your strength, mobility and ability to talk. Your care team may include physical therapists, speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and occupational therapists.
Benefits of brain surgery include, but aren’t limited to, the following:
The success of brain surgery varies depending on the type of procedure and your general health at the time of surgery. Your surgeon will explain the risks and benefits of surgery before the procedure so you can make an informed decision about your health. Advances in medical technology make brain surgery safer than ever before.
As with any surgery, brain surgery carries risks. The most common complications of brain surgery include:
Common side effects after brain surgery include:
The most common long-term risks after brain surgery include:
Complications of brain surgery can be life-threatening. Newer, less invasive procedures are available, greatly reducing risks and complications.
Your recovery time varies based on the type of brain surgery you need. On average, it can take a few weeks to recover from a less invasive form of brain surgery. For open brain surgery, the recovery time can range from six weeks to several months. Your surgeon will explain a time estimate of when you should expect to feel better.
Talk to your healthcare provider about when it’s safe to return to work and normal activities. Depending on the surgery you had, they can give you specific recommendations. It’s important to go to your follow-up appointments in the weeks and months following surgery. You may need imaging tests to review your healing progress.
It’s normal to experience side effects and to even feel worse after your brain surgery before you feel better. But some problems aren’t normal, and you should contact your surgeon or healthcare provider about them:
Call 911, your local emergency services number or go to the emergency department if you experience:
Stereotactic radiosurgery is a type of radiation therapy for brain cancer. One of the most commonly used technologies is Gamma Knife® radiosurgery. Despite its name, it’s not a type of surgery because there are no incisions. A healthcare provider aims beams of radiation at your head to destroy or shrink tumors.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Brain surgery can treat a variety of serious medical conditions, including brain tumors, aneurysms and epilepsy. Some types of brain surgery require an incision in your skull and brain. Other procedures are minimally invasive and may not require any incisions. The biggest risks with brain surgery include loss of function, such as your ability to speak, walk or think. Rehabilitation after surgery can help you regain these functions. Your care team can answer any questions you may have about the procedure and they’ll be available to help you during your recovery.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/31/2023.
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