Cranioplasty is a surgical procedure in which part of the skull is reconstructed. This procedure can be performed for aesthetic or medical reasons, and sometimes a blend of both. It requires a skilled surgeon because there are a number of serious risks. Usually, a specialist in craniofacial surgery performs the procedure, and the surgical team may include other members, depending on why the surgery is being performed and the general condition of the patient.
One reason to perform a cranioplasty is to address a deformity or defect in the skull. There are a number of conditions which can lead to abnormalities in skull structure, such as cases in which the cranial sutures close early and the skull cannot expand as the brain grows. Likewise, some congenital conditions can cause children to be born with skull anomalies which can be corrected with cranioplasty.
Injuries to the skull sustained as a result of trauma can also be cause for a cranioplasty, as for example when part of the skull is fractured and needs to be reconstructed. Likewise, cancers can sometimes cause abnormalities of the skull which need to be corrected. Sometimes surgical procedures on the brain can require a cranioplasty after completion.
When a surgeon prepares for a cranioplasty, x-rays of the skull are taken and the surgeon discusses the procedure with the patient and/or family members. Usually the goal of the surgery is discussed along with options which may be available and aftercare directions are provided so that people know what to expect after the surgery. The surgeon may also fabricate specialized parts for the procedure or order parts from a facility which does fabrications of that nature.
Cranioplasty can include inserting plates and other supportive devices into the skull to help it hold its shape, using screws to position fractured pieces of bone in place, and fitting people with external fixators which are used temporarily while the skull heals. The specifics of the procedure vary depending on the area of the skull being reconstructed, the preferences of the surgeon, and the circumstances.
Risks of a cranioplasty can include infection at the surgical site, damage to the nerves in the face, and injuries to the brain. Brain injuries are especially common concerns after trauma, because more of the brain may need to be exposed during surgery; the brain can also be subject to swelling, which may cause a dangerous rise in pressure inside the skull.