Brain Surgery: Everything You Need to Know

Medically Reviewed By Seunggu Han, M.D.

Brain surgery is a medical specialty aimed at resolving problems of the brain. It is a standard treatment for brain tumors, aneurysms, and various other conditions. This article reviews brain surgery, including the types, preparation, recovery, and risks.

What is brain surgery?

Small brains on a pink background
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Brain surgery is a treatment for brain-related conditions and injuries. It focuses on Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source correcting issues without damaging healthy brain tissue.

Specialized teams of medical professionals work together to perform the procedure, including:

  • neurosurgeons or brain surgeons
  • anesthesiologists or pain management doctors 
  • operating room nurses
  • surgical technologist 
  • intensive care unit nursing personnel

Brain surgeries often begin with an imaging test. Your doctor will use a CT scan or MRI to identify the portion of your brain that is causing symptoms.

What is brain surgery used for?

A wide range of brain-related issues can require treatment with brain surgery, including:

What are the types of brain surgery?

Brain surgeries vary depending on the issues or conditions to address.


A craniotomy temporarily removes a section of the skull to expose and repair the brain. It can help treat various brain conditions, including:

The procedure often begins with an imaging scan to localize the area of the brain that requires repair. Afterward, a neurosurgeon will remove a piece of the skull, complete the operation, and restore the skull.

Learn more about craniotomy.


A brain biopsy is a procedure to collect a sample of brain tissue for microscopic analysis. It can help identify the nature of a brain tumor or lesion.

There are many types of brain biopsies, including:

  • Open brain biopsy: This involves making a small opening in the skull to access and remove a sample of brain tissue for analysis.
  • Stereotactic brain biopsy: This involves inserting a needle into the brain to collect a brain tissue sample for analysis.

Read more about biopsy.

Deep brain stimulation (DBS)

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) involves delivering electrical impulses into specific brain areas. It can often help Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source resolve severe neurological and movement symptoms.

Common conditions that may require treatment with DBS, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), include:

DBS usually begins with an imaging scan to map your brain. Next, a neurosurgeon will implant electrodes to transmit electrical signals to specific regions in your brain. 

Learn more about DBS.


Neuroendoscopy is a technique to collect tissue samples from a brain tumor or to remove a tumor. It is a minimally invasive diagnostic and treatment method.

Common conditions that a doctor may use neuroendoscopy include:

  • craniopharyngioma, a rare type of benign brain tumor
  • chordoma, a slow-growing cancer tissue that forms in the spine
  • pituitary tumors
  • cysts
  • other brain tumors

Neurosurgeons use an endoscope to perform neuroendoscopy. They can guide the device through the nose or other openings into the deep portions of the brain.

Posterior fossa decompression

Posterior fossa decompression is a procedure to reduce pressure on the brain and spinal cord. It works by Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source removing a bone at the base of the skull.

Doctors commonly use the procedure to treat Chiari malformation Type 1.

Chiari malformation is a structural issue that causes the brain to push down into the spinal cord. It can cause Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source headaches, dizziness, and hearing loss, among other symptoms.

Neurosurgeons begin posterior fossa decompression by making incisions to reach your skull. Then they remove a section of the bone at the base of your skull. 

Read more about chiari malformation.

Thrombectomy and cerebral aneurysm repair

Thrombectomy is the surgical removal of a blood clot from an artery or vein. It can complement cerebral aneurysm repair, a technique to correct a blood-filled swelling of an artery or vein.

Neurosurgeons may perform a thrombectomy and cerebral aneurysm repair to prevent:

  • hemorrhage
  • hematoma
  • coma
  • stroke
  • brain damage

During thrombectomy:

  • A neurosurgeon will make an incision into a blood vessel. 
  • They will remove the blood clot and repair the blood vessel.

During cerebral aneurysm repair:

  • A neurosurgeon will make incisions to open the skull.
  • They will insert a metal clip at the base of the aneurysm to prevent it from bursting.

What are the risks of brain surgery?

Brain surgeries can be highly effective treatments. However, they can also cause complications. 

Many factors can influence the risk of complications from brain surgery, including:

  • a person’s age
  • the type of surgical procedure
  • a person’s cardiovascular risk
  • a person’s overall health 

Risks and complications of brain surgery include:

How do I prepare for brain surgery?

Your doctor will tell you how to prepare for the procedure a week or two prior. They will typically discuss temporary lifestyle changes, such as:

  • avoiding blood thinners
  • avoiding smoking 
  • avoiding eating in the hours before the operation 

Your doctor will also discuss the risks of the procedure, the medical teams involved, and other similar matters. 

Finally, they will perform various imaging tests, such as CT scans and MRIs.

Adequate preparation can often reduce the risks and improve the outcome of surgery.

What should I expect after brain surgery? 

After the procedure, you may experience some side effects, such as extreme tiredness. These will typically pass in a few weeks.  

However, if they linger or are severe, your doctor may prescribe them. Your doctor may also recommend some activities for faster recovery, including:

  • getting sufficient rest
  • doing light exercises  
  • drinking sufficient water 
  • reporting back to the hospital at regular intervals for monitoring 


Brain surgery is a specialized technique to repair an issue in the brain. It can help treat brain tumors, aneurysms, and other brain conditions. 

There are many brain surgeries, including craniotomy, brain biopsy, and deep brain stimulation (DBS).

Brain surgeries can be extremely effective, but they may also cause complications. These can include bleeding, infections, and brain swelling.

Your doctor will tell you how to prepare for the procedure a week or two prior. They will also typically perform some imaging tests.

Discuss the procedure and what to expect with your doctor.

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  2. Callovini, G, M., et al. (2018). How is stereotactic brain biopsy evolving? A multicentric analysis of a series of 421 cases treated in Rome over the last sixteen years.
  3. Deep brain stimulation for movement disorders. (2022).
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  5. Hidalgo, A. J., et al. (2022). Arnold Chiari malformation.
  6. Li, G. G., et al. (2022). Mass brain tissue lost after decompressive craniectomy: A case report.
  7. Osborne-Grinter, M., et al. (2021). Posterior fossa decompression and duraplasty with and without arachnoid preservation for the treatment of adult chiari malformation type 1: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
  8. Shim, K. Y., et al. (2017). Neuroendoscopy: current and future perspectives.
  9. Stefini, R., et al. (2021). The positive effects of surgery on symptomatic stereotactic radiation-induced peritumoral brain edema: A report of three cases.
  10. Thomas, R. J. F., et al. (2022). Craniotomy.
  11. What are the risk of brain cancer surgery? (n.d.).
  12. Zhou, T., et al. (2018). Endovascular thrombectomy for large-vessel occlusion strokes with preexisting intracranial aneurysms.

Medical Reviewer: Seunggu Han, M.D.
Last Review Date: 2022 Dec 23
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