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As much as we love our doctors and nurses, sometimes we wish they’d speak in a language we can understand. We compiled a list of common words used in the neurosurgical world and, with the assistance of the medical team, defined them in a straightforward and practical way.

Analgesic – pain medication

Atrium – one of the two chambers of the heart

Bulb reservoir – a small dome on most shunt valves.  The doctor can use the bulb to test the condition of the shunt

Burr hole – a procedure where a hole is drilled into the skull exposing dura mater

Cerebral spinal fluid – clear fluid produced by the brain that surrounds the brain and spinal cord

CT scan – use of a tube-like machine that takes pictures of the insides. Sometimes, a contrast dye is used to get better pictures

Clear fluids – fluids that you can see through, such as water or apple juice. Fluids like milk, formula and orange juice are not clear fluids

Congenital – a condition present since birth

Craniotomy – removal of part of the skull to expose brain

Cyst – a benign sac or closed cavity that is filled with fluid. Most cysts in the brain are filled with CSF

Downward gaze – the ability to look downward. The inability to look downward is often a sign of increased pressure in the brain

EEG – brain cells talk to each other by creating small electrical impulses. The EEG measures these impulses or the electrical activity of the brain

Endoscope – a small camera used during surgery that allows the doctor
to see inside the body as the picture shows up on a television monitor

EVD/external ventricular drainage – a drainage system that is used when a shunt is infected. The CSF drains to a collection bag on the outside of the body

Fontanelle – also called the “soft spot,” it is an opening between the sutures of the skull in infants or young children

Hydrocephalus – also called “water on the brain,” it is an increased amount of fluid around the brain. Shunts are used if there are problems with the fluid and pressure

Intracranial pressure (ICP) – pressure in the skull thus in the brain and fluid

ICP monitor – placed in the skull, by a neurosurgeon, it monitors pressure in the brain

Intubation – insertion of a tube in the mouth and throat to help with breathing

Intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH) – a bleed within the ventricular system

Lumbar puncture – also called a “spinal tap,” the doctor will put a needle in lower spine (lumbar area) and take a sample of the cerebral spinal fluid for testing. This is a very common procedure

MRI – a scan that uses magnets and looks very closely at the area it is investigating. It is a loud machine and your child will be given ear protection

There are two types of MRI scans:

  1. Fast Head MRI – scan takes about 30 seconds and does not require sedation.
  2. Full MRI – scan can take between 30 and 60 minutes. Your child will most likely be sedated for these scans. If your child has a programmable shunt, the doctor must be available afterwards to check the setting as the scan can sometimes cause changes.

NPO (Nil per os) – Nothing by mouth is a medical term used to tell you that your child may not eat or drink prior to surgery. If your child requires medication, discuss this with the doctor about how and when to administor the medication

Papilledema – swelling of the optic nerve caused by increased pressure

Seizure – an episode of disturbed brain activity

Shunt – a drain that is inserted to help drain fluid accumulation in the brain

Stenosis – a blockage

Stroke – damage to the brain caused either by a blood clot or from a bleed in the brain (hemorrhagic)


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