A craniectomy is a surgery performed when the portion of the skull removed during brain surgery is not immediately returned and fixed back. Craniectomies may be done to remove infected pieces of the skull or extract skull fragments caused by a traumatic injury. In some cases, the neurosurgeon performs a craniectomy to create room from a brain swelling. Craniectomies are always performed as a lifesaving measure!
The Craniectomy Procedure
After the patient is placed under general anesthesia, the surgeon will cut and clip away the scalp and underlying tissues. This allows the surgeon direct and clear access. The main tools used are a drill to create small holes in the skull and a saw to remove bone flap.
After the craniectomy, the bone flap is normally stored in a sterile environment until proper healing has taken place. After that, the operation to replace the bone flap can be performed. This generally takes place 6 weeks to 3 months after a craniectomy. If the patient’s skull is too damaged or infected, the surgeon may use synthetic materials to repair the skull instead.
Protecting The Craniectomy Site
It is very important that the surgical site be carefully protected! Patients who have had a craniectomy are usually sent home with a protective helmet. For at least 6 weeks, the patient should refrain from any activity that may result in a hit to the head or a fall. This includes strenuous activity, heavy lifting, and sports.
Risks Of A Craniectomy
Though brain surgery is highly effective, it is also a risky procedure. In addition to the risks of any surgical procedure, such as breathing difficulty, excessive bleeding, blood clots and adverse reactions to anesthesia or medication, the major risks of a craniectomy are bleeding in the brain and infection, either of which may lead to further brain damage. It may take at least a year for a patient to fully recover from a craniectomy. Rehabilitative treatment may be necessary.
If a patient exhibits any of the following signs after a craniectomy, he/she needs urgent medical attention:
- Altered behavior, mood or mental ability
- Repeated vomiting
- Drainage or swelling at the surgical site
- Any headache unrelieved by over-the-counter medication.