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Having a Burr Hole Procedure

Burr holes are small holes that a neurosurgeon makes in the skull. Burr holes are used to help relieve pressure on the brain when fluid, such as blood, builds up and starts to press on brain tissue. This buildup of blood is dangerous. As the blood builds, it pushes up against the skull and has nowhere to go. If the blood starts to compress the brain, it can lead to symptoms or even death if not treated.

What to tell your healthcare provider

Tell your healthcare provider about all the medicines you take. This includes over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin. Tell your provider about any recent changes in your health, such as a fever.

Tests before your procedure

You may need some tests before the procedure, such as a CT scan. This is done to get more information about the fluid around your brain.

Getting ready for your procedure

In some cases, a burr hold procedure happens as an emergency treatment. If the procedure is planned, talk with the doctor about what you should do to get ready. You may need to stop taking some medicines ahead of time, such as blood thinners. If you smoke, you’ll need to stop before your surgery. Smoking can delay healing. Talk with your doctor if you need help to stop smoking.

Also, make sure to:

  • Ask a family member or friend to take you home from the hospital. You cannot drive yourself.

  • Not eat or drink after midnight the night before your surgery.

  • Follow all other instructions from your healthcare provider.

You will be asked to sign a consent form that gives your permission to do the procedure. Read the form carefully. Ask questions if something is not clear.

On the day of your procedure

The exact details of your procedure may differ. Ask your neurosurgeon what your procedure will be like. In general, you can expect the following:

  • Just before the procedure, you’ll have an intravenous (IV) line put in your arm or hand. You will get a medicine through the IV to make you relaxed and sleepy. Or you will get a medicine to make you sleep fully (general anesthesia).

  • During the procedure, a healthcare provider will carefully watch your vital signs, such as heart rate and blood pressure.

  • Hair will be trimmed in the area of your scalp.

  • The surgeon will inject numbing medicine into your scalp.

  • The surgeon will make a cut (incision) in your scalp.

  • Using a special drill, a surgeon drills 1 or 2 small holes in the skull so he or she can reach the dura.

  • The surgeon then opens the dura and drains any excess fluid to reduce pressure within the skull.

  • The surgeon may then place a temporary drain to continue to drain the fluid. Or the dura and scalp will be closed right away.

After your procedure

After your procedure, your healthcare provider will carefully watch your vital signs. You may need to stay in the hospital for a few days as you recover. Your original symptoms may go away quickly from the lowered pressure on your brain.

You may have some pain at the site of your scalp incision. Over-the-counter pain medicines are often enough to treat it.

You should be able to drink and eat normally after the surgery. You can go back to most of your activities as soon you are able. Avoid any activities that might cause a blow to the head. Don’t drive again until your doctor says it is OK. Your doctor may give you more instructions about caring for your wound or about your medicines. Make sure to go to all your follow-up appointments. You may need to have a drain or stitches removed.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these:

  • A fever of 100.4⁰F (38⁰C) or higher

  • Seizure

  • Muscle weakness

  • Confusion

  • Stiff neck

  • Swelling, redness, or opening of your scalp incision

© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.