Gamma Knife Treatment Side Effects: Headaches and Nausea

Understanding possible side effects is an important part of preparing for any medical procedure. Whether you and your doctor have already decided on Gamma Knife radiosurgery for your condition or you are still in the treatment planning process, it’s a great idea to educate yourself on all aspects of the treatment. You may not be familiar with Gamma Knife radiosurgery. To assist you, the following information will explain more about the procedure, conditions it can treat and any Gamma Knife treatment side effects – in particular, headaches and nausea.

Understanding Gamma Knife Radiosurgery

The name “Gamma Knife” may sound like a surgical procedure, but it’s not at all. Rather, it’s a form of stereotactic radiosurgery, an advanced method of radiation therapy. The procedure doesn’t involve any scalpels or incisions, and there is no hospital stay. In fact, the treatment is minimally invasive, making it an appealing option for many patients.

The technology is very different from what you may think of when it comes to radiation therapy. During Gamma Knife radiosurgery, nearly 200 individual beams of high-dose radiation combine to deliver a therapeutic dose to the treatment area. The Gamma Knife system is very precise and can treat an area smaller than the width of a single human hair. This is in contrast to traditional whole-brain radiation therapy, which treats the entire brain over multiple sessions. 

Conditions Treated with Gamma Knife Radiosurgery

The Gamma Knife technology was developed specifically for treating conditions of the brain, head and neck. Sometimes it is used in place of surgery, sometimes instead of other forms of radiation and sometimes as part of a combination approach. It will be up to your doctor to determine if you are a good candidate for Gamma Knife radiosurgery, based on your individual condition and personal health history. 

However, conditions commonly treated using Gamma Knife Radiosurgery include:

Many patients are candidates for Gamma Knife radiosurgery. These include:

  • People who prefer Gamma Knife radiosurgery in place of traditional surgery or radiation
  • People who cannot undergo surgery due to health complications
  • People who have an area difficult to reach surgically or with a high risk of damage to other structures
  • Patients who have been treated with other methods, without success

Headaches and Nausea Following Gamma Knife Radiosurgery

Some patients do experience side effects after Gamma Knife radiosurgery. Understanding these beforehand can help you know what to expect and how to address any discomfort you may have.

The most common side effect after Gamma Knife radiosurgery is a headache, which may be mild to moderate in severity. This typically only lasts for the first day or two and can be managed using over-the-counter medication. Before your procedure, discuss what you should take for a headache with your doctor. He or she can make a recommendation so you have whatever you need to take on hand, should a headache develop. 

Though rare, some patients do experience nausea following treatment. This also usually only lasts a day or two and is often mild. However, if you are very uncomfortable, your doctor can prescribe medication to help ease your symptoms. Again, it may be worthwhile to discuss the possibility of nausea beforehand with your doctor so you know what to do, should it occur.

Other Side Effects of Gamma Knife Radiosurgery

The side effects that you could experience after your Gamma Knife radiosurgery treatment will depend on your particular situation. However, having a general understanding of what can occur can still be helpful. Your doctor will explain the possible side effects as they relate to your individual case, which could include: 

  • Sometimes the areas where the headframe attach to the scalp become irritated, itchy and/or painful

There is also one delayed side effect that can potentially occur approximately six months after your procedure. Sometimes the brain will swell in the area treated. However, your doctor will monitor for any swelling at your follow-up visits and, should it occur, can prescribe you medication to eliminate the swelling without further complication.

Learn More From Your Doctor

Your personal doctor is familiar with your condition and situation and will be the best person to discuss possible side effects after your Gamma Knife radiosurgery treatment. Learning as much as you can before your procedure can help you best prepare for all possibilities, eliminating any surprises should you experience any side effects. If you have any specific questions about Gamma Knife radiosurgery in general or the side effects you might need to anticipate, be sure to write them down to bring up at your next appointment.

As you move forward through this process, continue to educate yourself about your condition and treatment options. Every little bit you learn can help set your mind at ease and give you confidence about your procedure. That, in turn, lends itself to peace of mind, letting you rest easy before, during and after your treatment.

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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