What to Expect as You Recover from Brain Aneurysm Surgery
Recovery from surgery for a brain aneurysm varies from person to person. What you experience during recovery depends in part on the type of surgery you had. In turn, the type of surgery will depend on the nature of your aneurysm. Did it cause bleeding into your brain before surgery? Or, did your doctor repair the aneurysm before there was any bleeding? Your recovery could be very different, depending on which of these applies to you.
Repair of an Intact Aneurysm (Before the Aneurysm Ruptures)
Some people with an aneurysm have time to plan for surgery and prepare for their recovery afterwards. This may be the case if your doctor diagnosed your aneurysm before it had the chance to rupture.
There are two types of surgery for a brain aneurysm. One is open surgery, sometimes called aneurysm clipping. It involves opening the skull by removing a small piece of bone to have open access to locate the aneurysm. Your doctor then uses surgical clips to close the aneurysm.
The other type is endovascular surgery, sometimes called aneurysm coiling. Your doctor puts a thin, flexible tube (catheter) inside one of your arteries and guides it into the aneurysm. The catheter contains tiny titanium coils. The coils fill the aneurysm and stop blood from flowing into it. Coiling does not require opening the skull.
For clipping, expect to be in the hospital for 4 to 6 days. Full recovery may take several weeks. For coiling, expect to be in the hospital 1 to 2 days. Full recovery takes 5 to 7 days.
Some side effects can be expected after either type of repair. You can prepare for them before your surgery. For instance:
- Fatigue is a common side effect. Make sure you will have help at home. Ask your surgeon when you can plan to return to normal activities. Make sure you can recover in a quiet place where you can rest.
Your balance, coordination and vision may be off after your surgery. Make sure you have someone available to drive you home. Also, you should have someone to help you with routine chores and activities at home. You will need someone to drive you to and from doctor appointments and other events until your neurologist says it’s okay for you to drive.
You may have some confusion and trouble with your memory. It's wise to take someone with you to your follow-up doctor visits. Do not make any important decisions until your mind clears.
- Recovering from brain aneurysm surgery can be very stressful. Make sure you have a good support system at home.
Repair of a Ruptured Aneurysm
For many people, diagnosis of a brain aneurysm does not happen until the aneurysm ruptures and bleeds. This is a medical emergency. You will not have time to plan for surgery. Your aneurysm may be repaired with clipping or coiling. You may need to stay in the hospital for a month or more to recover. What happens during recovery will depend on how much brain damage the bleeding caused. Your recovery may include:
- Physical therapy to help you regain strength and movement
- Occupational therapy to help you function better at home and work
Hospital and Home Care
Whether you had clipping or coiling before or after bleeding, you can expect the following after surgery for a brain aneurysm:
- While you're in the hospital, your healthcare providers will monitor your recovery closely and check for signs of bleeding.
- Before you go home, you will need to have a brain imaging study. This is to make sure there is no bleeding from your aneurysm repair site.
- If you had open brain surgery, you may have some clicking when your scalp moves. This will go away in time as the area where the bone was reattached to the skull heals.
- You may need to continue taking medications at home. Do not drink alcohol if you are taking a seizure medication. Alcohol increases your risk of seizure.
- Over time, fatigue, headaches, confusion, and any visual problems should improve.
- Physical, speech or occupational therapy. It’s important to keep all your appointments.
- You may be able to gradually return to normal activities. Your surgeon will let you know when it is safe to drive and to return to other activities.
- Headaches are common after surgery for a brain aneurysm. Avoiding bright lights may help reduce headaches. Ask your surgeon what medications are safe to take for headache.
- You may need to return to have stitches removed. If you had coiling, you will have an incision in your groin area. If you had clipping, you will have an incision on your scalp.
Complications are possible with brain aneurysm surgery. Call your surgeon if:
- You have a seizure.
You lose consciousness.
- You have a headache that is worse than usual.
Your symptoms get worse or new symptoms develop.
You have redness, soreness, warmth or draining from your incision.
- You need more help or support.
If you are struggling in any of these areas, reach out to your doctor or other member of the neurosurgical care team. These medical professionals are specially trained in caring for people recovering from brain aneurysm surgery. They will help you directly or arrange for you the right type of support—physical, mental and emotional—you need to recover as fully and safely as possible.