Helping the Injured in Tennessee Since 1977

Brain surgery to reduce swelling carries serious consequences

Every year thousands of people suffer from brain injuries in the U.S. Some of those people are living here in Tennessee. These brain injuries are caused from any number of things, including medical conditions and complications, car accidents and other incidents where there is a hard hit to the head.

With brain injuries, modern medicine has come a long way. However, just as it has come a long way, some of these treatments are considered more controversial than others.

Recently, The New York Times published an article about decompressive craniectomy. This is a type of skull surgery that is done when the brain is swelling quickly and medications are unable to reduce the swelling. The skull surgery has been around since the 1970s. It is used to treat stroke and traumatic brain injuries.

To perform the surgery, a portion of the skull is removed. It is kept off until the swelling stops completely.

In some cases, if the skull surgery is not done, the patient will die from the swelling. However, decompressive craniectomy does not guarantee survival and in some cases the results can leave patients barely functional. This is where some of the controversy comes in on whether it is better to attempt the surgery or not.

Looking at the skull surgery, the issue is that surgeons cannot always tell who will recover and who will not or be left with very little cognitive and/or motor function. The decision to go forward with the surgery is also one typically made in a fast-paced environment where a patient is fighting for their life in the emergency room or in a battlefield hospital.

In the end, what all of this goes to show is that while modern medicine has come a long way, there are still no guarantees when it comes to the aftermath of a traumatic brain injury. The hope is that research will continue to lead to better and better treatment options.


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