Fatigue After Gamma Knife: What to Expect

Whether you already have your Gamma Knife radiosurgery scheduled or you are still in the treatment planning process, it can be helpful to understand what to expect afterward. This allows you to plan ahead and avoid being caught off guard by any surprises. Educating yourself about your condition and treatment options can help you know you’ve covered all your bases, allowing you to rest easy before, during and after your treatment.

The following information will explain more about Gamma Knife radiosurgery, including how it works and the conditions it can treat. Additionally, it will detail some of the possible side effects, focusing specifically on fatigue after Gamma Knife radiosurgery. This can serve as a jumping-off point for your conversation with your doctor about what you may experience after your own Gamma Knife radiosurgery session.

What is Gamma Knife Radiosurgery?

It may sound like a surgical procedure, but Gamma Knife radiosurgery doesn’t involve any incisions or stitches. It’s actually a minimally invasive procedure that uses an advanced form of radiation therapy to treat conditions of the brain, head and neck. The procedure takes place in an outpatient setting, which means there is no hospital stay. The treatment itself takes 15-60 minutes, depending on the treatment area, and many patients can be treated in just a single session.

Here’s how it works. During the procedure, 192 individual beams of high-dose radiation are used to treat the area of interest. This can be an area as small as 0.15 mm, the width of a single human hair. As a result, the target area is treated but healthy surrounding cells are spared. The individual beams of radiation are a low dosage but combine to have a therapeutic effect. This is why patients typically require just 1-5 total sessions.

What Conditions Can be Treated with Gamma Knife Radiosurgery?

The Gamma Knife technology is a form of stereotactic radiosurgery developed exclusively for treating the brain, head and neck. Treatable conditions include:

Gamma Knife radiosurgery can be used as a primary treatment or in combination with surgery. It can also be used to treat conditions that haven’t responded to other methods, such as refractory trigeminal neuralgia. Your doctor will determine if you are a candidate for Gamma Knife radiosurgery based on your individual condition and health history. Gamma Knife radiosurgery may be an option if:

  • You cannot undergo surgery because of complicating health factors or increased surgical risk
  • Your tumor is large, and radiation therapy is required to eliminate any remaining cells after surgical removal
  • The area of interest is difficult to reach surgically without damaging adjacent structures
  • You simply prefer a minimally invasive treatment option

What are Possible Side Effects After Gamma Knife Radiosurgery?

While your recovery following Gamma Knife radiosurgery will be a personal experience, it can be helpful to understand what typically occurs for most patients. Generally speaking, there are two types of side effects: immediate and delayed. Immediate side effects include fatigue, nausea and headaches. Some patients experience discomfort, such as itching or mild pain, at the sites on the scalp where the headframe was attached. However, these issues are typically mild and transient, lasting only a day or two.

Some patients may experience a delayed swelling of the brain around six months after treatment. Your doctor will monitor you for any signs or symptoms at your follow-up visits. If you do experience delayed swelling, it can be resolved with medication without any lingering issues.

More About Fatigue After Gamma Knife Radiosurgery

Many patients feel tired immediately following Gamma Knife radiosurgery. Though the treatment is minimally invasive, preparing and undergoing a medical procedure can be draining, both emotionally and physically. You will want to plan on taking it easy for the remainder of the day to give your body and mind a chance to recover. You may find you feel mildly fatigued for a couple of days. However, most patients are back to work and normal activity levels within a day or two.

It can be helpful to prepare for a couple of days to recover, even if that just means putting your feet up and taking it easy. Take a day or two off work and lay in a supply of comfort items, whether that’s groceries, bubble bath or anything else that will make your recovery more pleasant. Even a little help around the house or with childcare isn’t a bad idea, just to give yourself a bit of a break to bounce back. 

Discuss Your Recovery with Your Doctor

It’s important to understand that your recovery will depend on many personal factors, like your condition and how your body responds to treatment. You’ve taken the first step by educating yourself about Gamma Knife radiosurgery and what to expect after treatment. Now, you need to continue the discussion with your personal doctor. He or she can help you relate the information here to your specific condition to help give you an idea of what to expect following your Gamma Knife radiosurgery.

As you move forward, continue to educate yourself about your condition. Every piece of information helps you have a better idea of what to expect, wherever you are in the treatment process. This can help reduce some of the stress you may be feeling, allowing you to focus your energy on what really matters: feeling better.

Anthony D’Ambrosio, M.D., M.B.A., F.A.A.N.S
Anthony D’Ambrosio, M.D., M.B.A., F.A.A.N.S
Dr. Anthony D’Ambrosio is a board-certified neurosurgeon that specializes in Neurosurgery, Stereotactic Radiosurgery, Gamma Knife Radiosurgery (GKRS) and more. He is the Director of Neurosurgery and Co-Director of the Gamma Knife Program at The Valley Hospital. Dr. D’Ambrosio is an expert in treating patients with trigeminal neuralgia, benign or malignant brain tumors, as well as many other neurological conditions.

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