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Craniotomy: Before Your Surgery

What is a craniotomy?

A craniotomy is surgery to open your skull to treat a problem in your brain. It can be done for many reasons. For example, you may need a craniotomy if your brain or blood vessels are damaged. Or you may need one if you have a tumour or an infection in your brain.

Part of your head may be shaved. The doctor uses special tools to make cuts (incisions) through your scalp and skull. The doctor then looks at the inside of your skull to treat the problem. The doctor closes the skull and incisions.

You may get medicine so you will be asleep during the surgery. Or you may be awake, but you will not feel pain. Sometimes a person must be awake during surgery so the doctor can test how well the brain is working.

Your doctor will help you know how long the surgery will last and what to expect. Afterward, you may stay in the hospital for a few days to a week or more. You may need a month or two to recover. Your recovery may take longer if you have weak areas of your body or have problems talking or seeing. How fully you recover depends on why you had the surgery and how well you do after your surgery.

How do you prepare for surgery?

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines and natural health products you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your surgery. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.
  • If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your surgery. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance care plan. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It's a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

What happens on the day of surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be cancelled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Take a bath or shower before you come in for your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Do not shave the surgical site yourself.
  • Take off all jewellery and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the hospital or surgery centre

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • The area for surgery is often marked to make sure there are no errors.
  • You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. The anesthesia may make you sleep. Or it may just numb the area being worked on.
  • The surgery can take 30 minutes to 12 hours.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare for your surgery.
  • You become ill before the surgery (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about having the surgery.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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