Recovering after children’s brain surgery

Recovering from brain surgery can take some time, both in hospital and at home. Neurosurgery is a big operation. Many children stay in an intensive or high dependency unit for the first few days. After that they are usually looked after on the children’s ward. They might be in hospital for around 7-10 days.

Children’s wards can be busy and noisy places. But they tend to be more relaxed and child friendly places than adult wards and intensive care units. The nurses won’t need to do quite so many checks once they are on the children’s ward. And you should be able to be more involved in their care.

In most children’s wards one parent or carer can stay overnight with their child. Your child’s nursing team, or clinical nurse specialist, will let you know what to expect.

Immediate side effects

Brain surgery can cause swelling in the brain. Your surgical team monitor this closely and give treatment to reduce the swelling. But it might still cause symptoms such as:

  • weakness
  • dizzy spells
  • poor balance or lack of coordination
  • personality or behaviour changes
  • confusion
  • speech problems
  • fits (seizures)

Your child’s symptoms might be worse than before the operation at first. And you might notice symptoms that they didn’t have before.

This can be a difficult time for you and your family. You might worry that the operation has not worked. But symptoms usually lessen and they will recover.

Your child’s surgeon can give you some idea of what to expect about recovery.

Tiredness

Your child might feel very tired after their surgery. This is normal. They might need to rest more often. Or nap if they have done something that involves a lot of effort for them. At first, this might be having a wash, or doing exercises with the physiotherapist.

And, the medical team still need to check that they are recovering from the surgery as expected by still doing the neurological tests regularly. This means that they might need to wake your child to do this. This can make them feel more tired.

Back to school

Every child recovers differently. Talk with your child’s clinical nurse specialist about plans for school and education while having cancer treatment.

Long term problems after surgery

Some children recover well after brain surgery. And only need a small amount of extra help with their everyday life or at school. Other children have more problems. Or longer term difficulties.

These problems depend on the area of the brain that the tumour was, or still is. Problems might include:

  • difficulty walking or moving around
  • learning problems
  • problems at school
  • behavioural issues
  • problems with speech

Posterior fossa syndrome

Some children have particular symptoms after brain surgery to the area of the brain called the posterior fossa. It’s in the back of the brain. These symptoms are called posterior fossa syndrome. They can be very mild or severe. Symptoms include difficulty talking, swallowing or walking.

Posterior fossa syndrome might develop from between one day to a week after surgery. The symptoms usually improve slowly over a few weeks or months. But they may not go away completely in some people. Research is trying to find out what causes posterior fossa syndrome.

There is support and help available for children who have long term problems after treatment for a brain tumour.

Other treatment

It’s common for children to have more treatment after brain surgery. This might be chemotherapy, radiotherapy or both. Your child’s team will let you know what to expect.

Last reviewed: 
13 Mar 2019
  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Blackwell, 2015

  • Principles and practice of oncology (10th edition)
    VT De Vita, S Hellman and SA Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2015

Related links