A craniectomy is a surgical procedure that is used when an individual's brain is swelling to a degree that it could cause damage to the brain. In the neurosurgical procedure, a section of the skull is cut out and removed to give the swelling brain space to expand without being pressed up against the skull. The brain can swell for a variety of reasons ranging from injury to disease. Brain trauma can cause swelling in the brain, just as hitting one's knee can cause the knee to swell. An infection, such as meningitis, may also be responsible for swelling the the brain.
A decompressive craniectomy procedure is typically only used when all other methods of reducing brain swelling have failed. It is a relatively controversial procedure as it is often ineffective and can cause great damage to the individual undergoing the procedure. The surgery can open a patient to diseases such as meningitis or brain abscess, both of which carry a risk of death.
In many cases, a craniectomy procedure will be used on individuals who have suffered a major stroke. Performing a craniectomy on a stroke patient tends to improve the chance of survival and decrease the level of impairment typically experienced by those who experience strokes. It does this by reducing the intracranial pressure that contributes to this impairment in the first place.
Strokes, infections, and trauma can all cause an increase in intracranial pressure that can, in turn, cause damage to the brain. Parasites, viruses, and bacteria can also cause various illnesses that cause brain swelling. Meningitis, encephalitis, and toxoplasmosis are fairly common examples of illnesses caused by such agents. Often, these infections can spread very quickly and cause a great deal of damage when they are not dealt with quickly and effectively. Brain tumors are also capable of causing an increase in intracranial pressure that could necessitate a craniectomy.
There are many symptoms of brain swelling, which could, if left untreated, lead to the need for a decompressive craniectomy. Headaches and neck pain are very common, though they are easy to mistake for simple flu or even stress symptoms. Dizziness, nausea, and breathing problems can also occur. Intracranial pressure can be focused on specific parts of the brain that have specific sensory or motor purposes. As such, seizures, blindness, difficulty walking, memory loss, and fainting can all occur.
People experiencing these symptoms are generally encouraged to seek help from their doctors. While many of the symptoms can be caused by common flu or cold viruses, others are generally associated with severe neurological issues. Early treatment could prevent the need for removing a section of one's skull in a craniectomy.