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What is Neurosurgery?

Neurosurgeons diagnose and treat conditions related to the brain, spine, and other parts of the nervous system. They are specifically trained and certified in surgical treatments. Neurosurgeons help manage common conditions, including brain tumors, head injuries, intracranial aneurysms, and a wide number of spinal disorders, including spinal canal stenosis, tumors, herniated discs, fractures, and spinal deformities.

Neurosurgery is one of the most technologically advanced surgical specialties. Today, neurosurgeons use computer-based neuronavigational technology, spinal biomechanics and instrumentation, gene therapy for brain tumor management, catheter-driven endovascular techniques, and continued advances in neuroradiological technology.

The most common reasons to see a neurosurgeon are usually related to a disc herniation, disc degeneration, spinal deformity, brain tumors, intracranial hemorrhages, and brain and spine trauma.

Neurological surgery includes treatment of patients with disorders of the central and peripheral nervous systems:

  • Brain, meninges, and skull (and related blood supply, including the extracranial carotid and vertebral arteries).
  • Pituitary gland.
  • Spinal cord and vertebral column, including treatment by spinal fusion or instrumentation.
  • Cranial and spinal nerves.
  • Congenital anomalies.
  • Trauma.
  • Tumors.
  • Vascular disorders.
  • Infections of the brain or spine.
  • Stroke.
  • Degenerative diseases of the spine.
    Spinal Deformity.

Neurosurgeons also treat other neurological issues, such as:

  • Lower back pain.
  • Neck pain.
  • Brain tumors.
  • Issues with nerves that carry messages to and from the brain (peripheral nervous system disorders), including Ulnar Tunnel and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Neurosurgeons handle other nonoperative management of the central, peripheral, and autonomic nervous systems, their supporting structures, and vascular supply:

  • Critical care.
  • Prevention.
  • Diagnosis.
  • Evaluation.
  • Treatment.
  • Pain management.

Neurosurgeons also perform a wide variety of functions besides surgery since they are experts in the human nervous system. For instance, they often consult with other health specialists such as emergency room doctors and neurologists. They also help evaluate and rehabilitate people with neurological conditions.

What Is the difference between a Neurosurgeon and a Neurologist?

Neurologists treat patients with complex nervous system disorders such as stroke, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, headache disorders, and brain and peripheral nervous system infections. Neurologists often work closely with neurosurgeons, especially with patients with complex neurological disorders, but do not perform surgery.

Diagnostic Imaging

Neurosurgeons use state-of-the-art imaging technologies to help identify the cause of the problem. These include:

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI is used to create detailed pictures of the inside of the body, specifically looking at the nervous structures and soft tissues.
  • Computed Tomography (CT scan) is a diagnostic tool that shows more detail than a standard X-ray. It is the best test to evaluate bony anatomy.
  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET scan) is often used to search for cancer.

Reasons to See a Neurosurgeon

You might see a neurosurgeon for the following reasons:

  • Meningitis: A serious infection of the outer part of your brain or spinal cord. Symptoms are like a fever but last longer and are more severe. If the infection is bacterial, a catheter can be placed in the brain to deliver intrathecal antibiotics, and usually only in the case of a cranial or spinal abscess.
  • Spinal Disc Herniation: Spinal discs (cushions that sit between your vertebrae) prevent the bones of your back from rubbing against each other. A herniation is when the inner material of a disc swells and pushes through the outer membrane. If a spinal disc flattens or ruptures, it can be very painful. Surgeries to treat spinal disc herniations are relatively quick operations that can usually be done as an outpatient procedure.
  • Parkinson’s Disease: This condition affects the part of your brain that controls movement and can cause tremors, balance issues, and other problems. Medication is used to treat most people with Parkinson’s disease, but some cases are more complicated. When the disease severely affects the quality of life, electrodes can be implanted that stimulates your brain and relieves symptoms. Fellowship training is needed for this specialized procedure, with patients referred to a trained surgeon.
  • Epilepsy: Seizures are caused by this central nervous system disorder. Neurosurgeons can use several surgical procedures to treat epilepsy, such as laser ablation surgery that removes lesions in the brain that cause seizures with a laser. Unless there is a brain tumor as the cause of the seizures, patients are referred to specialists who do long-term monitoring and treatment of these disorders.

Next Steps

If you or your loved one has one of the neurological symptoms listed above, call for an appointment with one of our neurosurgeons.

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