Brain Biopsy?
February 19, 2011 2:38 PM   Subscribe

Have you ever had a brain biopsy? How was it?

I'm having a brain biopsy this week in an attempt to ascertain why my brain is very swollen.* I'm quite anxious about it, and in searching the internet for personal stories of biopsies I've been a bit disappointed. I'd love to hear from you if you have experienced a biopsy of your brain.

* I had encephalitis in October and the swelling has not reduced at all. I have had worsening epilepsy since. I've had a lot of tests and the consensus seems to be that I may have a benign brain tumor. That's not really my question though, since I think my doctors are on top of figuring out what's going on.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I asked a kind friend who has a brain tumor and he said it wasn't nearly as bad as he thought it would be and that's been the general consensus of everyone who has talked about it in his support group. The anticipation was much worse than the actuality. I hope it all goes well for you.
posted by mareli at 4:54 PM on February 19, 2011

I was with someone who went through a brain biopsy-- the fourth of four brain surgeries for that person.

It was for them as hard as the other three surgeries. The biopsy was taken from what turned out to be a cancerous tumor near the outside of the brain.

That was what they told me at the time and after the fact. I was also the caregiver for the person in the hospital and in the following weeks.

It was a different kind of situation so I do not know if this information is relevant or not.

I am sorry my report differs from mareli's.
posted by vincele at 6:30 PM on February 19, 2011

I should clarify that the person's other three surgeries were related to the treatment of brain cancer.

I think the anesthesia and a weakened constitution made the fourth surgery especially difficult for my friend, so do not let my information alarm you.

Finally, I would like to send you my best wishes and I hope that you have an easy time of it.
posted by vincele at 6:35 PM on February 19, 2011

I was amazed to hear how novel my dad found the procedure to be. He was very impressed by the professionalism of the technicians that led him through it. Local anesthesia eliminated any pain where the probe entered the scalp. There was some kind of harness that held his head but he said he didint find it to be claustrophobic. I think he'd been really anxious and it was a big relief when it was over. Good luck.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:39 PM on February 19, 2011

I haven't had a brain biopsy but I going to give it a try. First, concern about surgery is understandable and normal. Without knowing your exact concerns and frankly holding scant qualifications:

I used to work in a lab that received brain biopsies. Trust me, those things are TINY. Tiny, tiny, tiny. Of course, your situation may vary but a lot of the biopsies I got looked were about a plump cooked grain of rice or two in terms of size.

The brain itself has no pain sensors. None. Granted, the surgeons do have to make a tiny hole in your skull to get to the brain but that's about it. And you'll be asleep. So, I wouldn't expect much if any pain afterwords. As to drugs, pain-killers and anesthesia tend to work well with minimal side-effects. I know this from experience and from treating patients after their surgeries. Sometimes the drugs work a little too well... Ah, that one nice lady on morphine who thought she could just waltz on down the hall after major orthopedic surgery....

I hope this helps.
posted by ticketmaster10 at 7:51 PM on February 19, 2011

From my girlfriend:

First, there's a site called It's Just Benign that's for people with… benign brain tumors.

I had a brain biopsy for a benign tumor two and half years ago.  I didn't include many technical details, as the doctors seemed to inform me quite well. These are the things I found I would want to know:

So, a little something to bring with you, for after your procedure, would be a small bag of toiletries from home. I felt very grimy and it was refreshing to get cleaned up and brush my teeth. It was nice that I didn't have to use the toothpaste they had there, etc. Something to entertain you would also be good, though I don't remember if I used ear-buds. I listened to audiobooks, was read to, and read a little.

The procedure: As someone said before, they do put a frame around your head.  It’s a cylindrical framework, fairly open and relatively big. They had to screw it to my scalp and a bit into bone. They provided localized anesthesia for that. I got two screws in the front and two in the back. That part of the surgery is what pained me the most actually. Towards the end of the surgery and after it was over, these points on my head became quite painful. I assume it's because the whole weight of your head rests on these screws and when it doesn't, the weight of the frame rests on your head.  Perhaps I needed a higher dose of anesthetic. 
When I had the frame on my head, they took me to get some brain scans before they started the surgery. From just before I got the brain scans to when the surgery was over, they lay me flat on my back.  

As I was getting the general anesthetic for the surgery the nurses told me that the anesthetic can make some people cold. They provided plenty of warm blankets, so if anything I was over warm. So perhaps you'll want to watch out for the cold? Keep in mind from now on that I was under general anesthetic and the following stuff was fuzzy, but I'll write what I think I recall.

For me they made an incision to get the scalp out of the way then they drilled a hole that was at most the diameter of a dime.  When they drilled the hole I was a little alarmed.  I could feel the vibrations from the drill going through my head and my jaw and they were quite intense. The drilling lasted a lot longer then I had expected, very subjective of course. I didn't experience any pain from that.  During the procedure, my head was completely under a sheet draped over the frame.  The only things that I saw were when the nurses came to slide warm blankets over me. They asked to answer questions every now and then.

The surgeon took a biopsy, then he left for a little while, taking the sample to the pathologist, and he came back to take a second one.  After they had finished the biopsy my main neurosurgeon left and another one sewed up my scalp.  This is not a huge thing, but I had been told they would not need to shave any of my head, but they ended up shaving a sizable portion of my scalp.  They wheeled me out to an area where other recovering patients also seemed to be. At some point they took off the frame. I was quite uncomfortable and couldn’t keep my head on the pillow, even though they kept insisting that I lie back.  I finally figured out that the discomfort from the screw holes in the back of my head was what kept me from following their advice.  When I was able to express this, they brought ice and I was able to lie back.  A strange side effect of the anesthetic (I assume) that I experienced was something like restless leg syndrome.  I was surprised at how intense the need to move my legs was.  Not to sound alarming but it felt a bit like vomiting, which I’ve done plenty of, except with my leg muscles.  You probably won’t experience the same side effects as I did so I don’t know how much attention you should pay to that.  

They took me to my hospital room and transferred me to my bed, which was really comfortable and had a remote control with lots of buttons. I felt grimy and I used something like baby wipes to clean up, but I found a wet washcloth much more refreshing (washing my face in the bathroom was impossible - all the moving and such).

My hair was covered in betadine so it was sticky and messy and I couldn’t wash my hair for a few days - doctor’s orders.  They kept the IV in and asked me what my level of pain was between 0 and 10.  They let me sleep a bit, but came in every couple hours to wake me up and ask me questions like “What date is it?” and “Where are you?”   I was very lucky in that I was quite ambulatory very quickly.  I only spent a day and a bit in the hospital, though, perhaps because of the frequent waking,  it felt like a week at least.

My neurosurgeon came in to see me at least once.  The nurses were wonderful (I think being nice to them helps that process).  They seemed like very caring people.   I wasn’t allowed to remove the bandage for a few days.  My face puffed up a bit.  I had some side effects afterwards, but they’re slowly fading away.  I’ve heard this is different with every person.  Some have a much more mild reaction.  I had bad headaches in the following days that I think were actually because of the swelling from the screw holes (I didn't know four little scratches could be so much trouble!).  Also, I had to be very careful to keep them from getting infected.  

That’s what I can think of for now and it's a bit sloppy and quick, sorry to have taken up so much space.  If you have any questions, feel free to contact me through this account.
posted by clockbound at 5:49 PM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

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