Frequently Asked Questions About Brain Surgery
The prospect of having brain surgery can be frightening. We encourage you to ask your neurosurgeon questions. Information can lessen anxiety by reducing fear of the "unknown." In addition, a better understanding of your problem can help you make more informed, and, therefore, better decisions. We will help you regain a sense of control and cope with a situation that may seem to be moving too fast.
How do I prepare for brain surgery?
- Your neurosurgeon may ask you to see your internist (or a specialist such as a cardiologist) in order to get "medically cleared" for surgery. The intent is to reduce the risk of anesthesia by identifying and optimally treating medical conditions. For patients with a history of heart problems or who may be at increased risk of a heart attack, this may involve specific tests to assess the blood flow to the heart.
- In order to reduce the risk of bleeding during or immediately following brain surgery, it is important to tell your neurosurgeon if you are taking any medications that thin the blood (anticoagulants) or if you have a natural tendency for bleeding (hemophilia). Always tell your neurosurgeon if you take aspirin (even baby aspirin) because in most cases aspirin should be stopped at least eight days prior to surgery. Other medications, including herbs, vitamins, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories such as Motrin, may also have to be stopped prior to surgery.
- Although the chances of a serious complication are usually low with most brain surgeries, surgery of any type carries risks. Consider having a discussion with family members about your wishes in the event something unexpected occurs and you are not able to make decisions for yourself. Ideally, all patients having surgery of any kind should have a Living Will or Advance Directive completed prior to undergoing the surgical procedure. Your primary care doctor may be a good resource for advice.
How are university hospitals different from community hospitals?
- Experience - Brain Tumor Neurosurgeons at UCLA
- A university hospital, such as Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, offers the opportunity to be treated by highly trained specialists who can offer the latest and best treatments for brain tumors. Several studies have demonstrated that patient outcome is better if a surgeon performs a high volume of a particular operation each year.
- UCLA brain tumor neurosurgeons perform several brain tumor operations each week. In addition, due to the high volume of patients treated at UCLA, our nurses are highly trained in the care of neurosurgery patients.
- The Resident Team
- The resident team helps your neurosurgeon by making "rounds" twice a day—early in the morning and then later in the afternoon. They review your vital signs, examine you, and help coordinate your care (order tests, consult other specialists, prepare for discharge, etc.) under the direction of your neurosurgeon. Your neurosurgeon is in charge of your care and directs that care.
- The resident team is led by the chief resident, who has nearly completed training (seven years after completing Medical School). The other members of the team are the senior resident (fourth or fifth year in training), three junior residents (second year in training) plus two interns (first-year doctors).
- There may also be a medical student accompanying the team. Medical students only observe and do not make any decisions regarding your care. At UCLA a neurosurgery resident is stationed at the hospital 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to help with your care.
- You will not be subjected to any research or investigation without your direct consent. In other words, no one will "experiment" on you. For many patients, however, one of the reasons they are at a university hospital is to take advantage of the latest treatments being offered as part of research protocols.
- All research conducted at UCLA is highly scrutinized to adhere with the highest ethical and safety standards and must be approved by the UCLA Office for Protection of Human Subjects.
What happens after I am discharged from the hospital after brain surgery?
- Most patients recover quickly after brain tumor surgery and are able to leave the hospital after only a few days. Depending upon your functional abilities after surgery, our physical therapists and occupational therapists will evaluate you. In some instances, a short stay at a rehabilitation hospital near your home may be recommended.
- In addition to the discharge instructions you are given, it may be helpful to gather key information prior to discharge. It is important to determine which doctor(s) you need to see after discharge for the treatment of your brain tumor. An appointment with a radiation oncologist may be necessary so radiation therapy can begin soon after surgery. It may be beneficial to make an appointment to discuss chemotherapy with a neuro-oncologist. In most circumstances, the neuro-oncologist will be the main doctor coordinating your care related to the brain tumor after surgery. Lastly, a follow-up appointment with your neurosurgeon will be necessary to make certain your wound is healing properly.
What possible problems should I look for after brain surgery?
- You should call your neurosurgeon in the following situations: seizure, severe headache, worsening neurological problems, fever or chills, swelling of the ankles, bleeding or bruising, severe nausea or vomiting, and skin rash.
- If your neurosurgeon's office is closed and it is an urgent matter, call the UCLA page operator at (310) 825-6301 and ask to have the Neurosurgery Resident on call paged. If seizures continue for over one minute or there is a serious medical condition, call 911.