Treatment of postsurgical psychiatric complications


Address correspondence to Steffi Koch-Stoecker, Epilepsy Centre Mara, Maraweg 21, D-33617 Bielefeld, Germany. E-mail:


We describe the physical, psychological, and social complications and adaptation demands after epilepsy surgery and the risks of the development of psychiatric disorders when adequate stress processing fails. Practical strategies that can be followed in the prevention and treatment of postsurgical psychiatric complications are reviewed. The postoperative period is divided in three phases: (1) the early postoperative phase of stress processing until discharge from hospital; (2) the coping phase during the first months after discharge; and (3) the reorientation phase. The early postoperative course is often dominated by physical problems that hamper success in convalescence. They may initiate early psychiatric disturbances especially in patients with preoperative psychiatric comorbidity. The second phase after discharge from hospital is the typical time in which various psychiatric disorders may develop (either de novo or exacerbations of known disorders). At this time it is mandatory to keep in contact with patients, to start psychiatric treatments if necessary, and to assess for suicidal risk. The course of the third phase of reorientation depends on seizure outcome and on psychiatric state. Seizure-free persons without psychiatric comorbidities start to forget their epilepsy; those with less successful outcome conditions may need further support, especially for vocational integration. Epilepsy surgery brings about an overall strong improvement of psychiatric morbidity and quality of patients' life. Nevertheless, the first postoperative year is a fragile period that includes multiple physical, psychological, and social adaptation tasks. Patients with a history of psychiatric disorders are at a special risk of failing to cope with those health-related demands, but also for nonpsychiatric patients the months after epilepsy surgery are often stressful and exhausting. Professional help must be available during the postoperative coping time.