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Side effects of neurosurgery for children

The potential side-effects of neurosurgery for children can vary depending on things like the type of tumour and the procedure. Your child’s health team can give you details about what is likely to happen in your child’s case.

On this page:

How will my child feel after surgery?

Short term side-effects of neurosurgery for children

Frequently Asked Questions

How will my child feel after surgery?

Many factors will influence how your child feels after surgery, including the type of surgery they have had and the size and location of their tumour.

It is very common to feel very tired after surgery, so don’t worry if your child sleeps more than usual. Medical staff will carry out regular checks to make sure that everything is as it should be.

When your child first awakes after brain surgery, they may have swelling and bruising on their face, which can be very upsetting for them, and for you.

The symptoms they had before the surgery may also get worse temporarily. This is quite common and is usually due to swelling in the brain following surgery. These symptoms will get better during recovery.

It can be helpful to talk about this before your child has surgery, so that they know what to expect and do not feel afraid when they wake.

It can also be useful to plan ways of communicating beforehand in case they are unable to speak when they wake up, as happens sometimes. For example, thumbs up and thumbs down.

Your hospital may also have a play therapist who can help your child understand what is going to happen, both before and after surgery.

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Short term side-effects of neurosurgery for children

Your child could also experience some or all of the following temporary effects:

  • sickness and nausea due to the anaesthetic. Your child may receive anti-sickness tablets to help with this
  • sore throat due to the tube used during surgery to regulate breathing and oxygen levels
  • headaches caused by swelling in their brain. The swelling should die down within a couple of days and you may give your child painkillers to help relieve headaches
  • momentary phases of feeling dizzy or confused
  • difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) – a speech therapist may check your child’s swallowing before they can eat anything
  • ongoing tiredness – your child may continue to feel tired and need a nap after a period of activity (for example, working with a therapist)
  • New symptoms e.g. personality changes, speech or co-ordination problems, epileptic seizures (fits)

These side effects of neurosurgery for children usually disappear shortly after surgery, occasionally they may persist for longer periods. If you feel worried about any symptoms, speak to your child’s health team.

Your child will need to rest for a number of days afterwards, but medical experts will not keep them in bed any longer than is necessary. Hospitals like to get their patients up and get moving as soon as is safe.

Your child’s healthcare team will provide advice about hair washing, going back to school and taking part in sports when the hospital discharges your child.

Frequently Asked Questions

Visiting hours in intensive care units are usually very flexible, especially for young children, but check with staff at the hospital where your child receives treatment.

Generally, only immediate family members will be able to visit and the medical team will not allow very young children and babies in.

If you have a cold, or other contagious condition, it is not advisable to visit your child in intensive care, as this could make them and others on the ward more unwell.

You can touch your child, but you will have to clean your hands with alcohol gel first in order to prevent the risk of infection. Alcohol gel should be provided before you enter and as you leave the intensive care unit.

The amount of time it takes to wake up after surgery varies. Your child may wake very soon afterwards or they may remain unconscious for a number of hours or a few days.

In the first few hours after your child wakes up, health professionals caring for your child will carry out frequent checks (about every 15 minutes).

These include shining a light into your child’s eyes to check that their pupils dilate (get larger) and taking your child’s blood pressure and heart rate. You may not like to see your child roused in this way when they are resting, but these checks are very important.

Brain surgery is a significant operation and your child will need to stay in hospital for at least a few days afterwards.

They will not remain in the ICU or HDU for this time. But will be transferred to a specialist children’s ward where they will be able to see and talk to other children. Healthcare professionals who specialise in treating children will be looking after them here.

In some hospitals, you may be able to stay with your child on the ward. If not, the hospital will usually be able to help you find suitable accommodation, or may have its own limited accommodation where parents/carers can stay.

Although infection is a possibility, it is very uncommon. Your child’s health team will check the wound after surgery and also regularly during your child’s stay in the hospital.

They will also give you advice on preventing infection, when you take your child home. They may also give your child antibiotics.

Neurosurgery is a major operation and your child will need to rest for a number of days afterwards.

For the first few days, one of the top priorities for your child’s health team will be ensuring that the pressure in their head does not increase and that infections are prevented.

Nurses will help to ensure this by checking that your child is lying in a suitable position and by checking the wound regularly. They will also ensure that your child is moving their arms and legs around enough to allow blood flow and to prevent thrombosis (blood clots) or muscle stiffening.

Your child will most likely be given socks to wear in bed, which help to prevent thrombosis, or could be given an injection each day to help with prevention.

This does not mean, however, that they will not be up and walking on the ward very quickly.

Medical experts will not keep your child in bed any longer than is necessary and hospitals are always keen for their patients to get up and get moving as soon as is safe.

Parents sometimes worry that their child is up and about too soon. If you feel this, it is important that you talk with the health team to get a better understanding of why this is.

Your child will be seen by members of their health team, such as a physiotherapist and an occupational therapist (OT), to help with their rehabilitation and assess when they can safely go home.

They may be referred to community physiotherapy or OT, if this is required.

Your child is likely to have a brain scan a few days after surgery. Having a brain scan so soon after surgery can feel like a burden, but it is important. It will give the health team a good idea about whether any of the tumour is still there and how much swelling of the brain there is.

The success of surgery is measured against the aim of the surgery and not on curing a tumour. You will need to keep in mind what these aims were when hearing the scan results.

Download our information about neurosurgery for children – PDF

Download our information about neurosurgery for children in a printable format.

Download our information about neurosurgery for children – Clear Print – PDF

Download our information about neurosurgery for children in a printable, Clear Print format.

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