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  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:




A craniotomy removes part of the skull to access the brain for surgery.


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Reasons for Procedure

The most common reasons for a craniotomy are:

Possible Complications

Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:

  • Excess bleeding
  • Problems from anesthesia, such as wheezing or sore throat
  • Infection
  • Blood clots
  • Brain swelling
  • Heart attack
  • Damage to the brain that may cause:
    • Vision problems
    • Problems with balance
    • Bowel and bladder problems
    • Changes in memory, behavior, thinking, or speech
    • Seizures
    • Paralysis or weakness

Things that may raise the risk of problems are:

What to Expect

Problems To Look Out For

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
  • Pain that you cannot control with the medicine given
  • Redness, swelling, a lot of bleeding, or any discharge from the incision
  • Headache that does not go away or a stiff neck
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Changes in balance, strength, or movement
  • Changes in vision
  • Loss of bladder or bowel function
  • Problems with thinking
  • Numbness, tingling, or weakness in the face, arms, or legs

Call for medical help right away if you have:

  • Seizures
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Loss of consciousness

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.

Prior to Procedure

The surgical team may meet with you to talk about:

  • Anesthesia options
  • Any allergies you may have
  • Medicines, herbs, and supplements that you are taking and if you need to stop taking them before surgery
  • Fasting before surgery, such as avoiding food or drink after midnight the night before
  • Setting up a ride to and from surgery
  • Tests that will need to be done before surgery, such as images of the brain




  • Brain tumor surgery guide. Cedars Sinai website. Available at: https://www.cedars-sinai.org/programs/neurology-neurosurgery/clinical/brain-tumor/surgery-guide.html.
  • Craniotomy. Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/craniotomy.
  • Lukas, R.V. and Mrugala, M.M. Pivotal therapeutic trials for infiltrating gliomas and how they affect clinical practice. Neurooncol Pract, 2017; 4 (4): 209-219.
  • Suspected surgical site infection - approach to the patient. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/approach-to/suspected-surgical-site-infection-approach-to-the-patient.
  • Young, J.S., Chmura, S.J., et al. Management of glioblastoma in elderly patients. J Neurol Sci, 2017; 380: 250-255.


  • Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.