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What Is a Neurosurgeon?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 23, 2021

Neurosurgeons are medical doctors that diagnose and treat conditions related to  the brain, spine, and other parts of your nervous system. They differ from neurologists in that they’re specifically trained and certified in the use of surgical treatments, whereas neurologists focus on other forms of treatment. 

Because neurosurgeons are experts in the human nervous system, they also perform a wide variety of duties in addition to surgery. For instance, other health specialists such as emergency room doctors and neurologists often consult with neurosurgeons regarding their cases. Neurosurgeons also help evaluate and rehabilitate people with neurological conditions. 

What Does a Neurosurgeon Do?

There’s a myth that neurosurgeons spend all of their time in surgery. In reality, they have many other responsibilities. It can be hard to predict exactly what an appointment with a neurosurgeon will involve. 

As some of the most experienced and highly trained specialists in medicine, neurosurgeons spend a great deal of time consulting with other doctors about various cases. They also have their own roster of cases, each with unique challenges. Not all of these cases will need surgery, though many likely will. 

Neurosurgeons treat people with a range of neurological issues, such as:

Neurosurgeons use state-of-the-art imaging technologies to find the source of the problem. These include: 

Once they know the source of the problem, your neurosurgeon can find a method to treat it effectively. 

Education and Training

Neurosurgeons have one of the longest training periods of any doctor. Their training consists of: 

  • Four years of medical school
  • A one-year internship 
  • Five to seven years of residency
  • Often an additional year studying a subspecialty like pediatric neurosurgery

Additionally, future neurosurgeons must receive certification from the American Board of Neurological Surgery before they’re allowed to practice. Board certification requires an extensive period of both written and oral examination. 

Reasons to See a Neurosurgeon

There are many reasons why you might see a neurosurgeon. They include: 

Meningitis

This is a serious infection of the outer part of your brain or spinal cord. Its symptoms are similar to those of a fever, but they last longer and are more severe. The specific surgical treatment needed for meningitis will depend on whether the infection is viral or bacterial.

Spinal disk herniation

Spinal disks are cushions that sit between your vertebrae. They prevent the bones of your back from rubbing against each other, which causes pain. Herniation occurs when the inner material of a disk swells and pushes through the outer membrane. Serious discomfort can result if spinal disks flatten or rupture. Most surgeries to treat spinal hernias are relatively quick operations that can be done in a single day.

Parkinson’s disease

This condition affects the part of your brain that controls movement. It can cause tremors, balance issues, and other problems. Most people with Parkinson’s disease are treated with medication, but some cases are more complicated. When the disease severely affects your quality of life, a neurosurgeon can implant an electrode that stimulates your brain and provides relief from symptoms.

Epilepsy

This central nervous system disorder causes seizures. There are several surgical procedures that neurosurgeons can use to treat epilepsy, such as laser ablation surgery  (removing material via a laser) that targets specific lesions in the brain that cause seizures. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES: 

American Association of Neurological Surgeons: “Parkinson’s Disease.”

Cedars-Sinai: “Nonsurgical Treatment.”

Columbia University Department of Neurology: “Meningitis.”

John Hopkins Medicine: “Treatments and Procedures: Epilepsy Surgery.”

Mayo Clinic: “Neurosurgery.”

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: “Neurological Diagnostic Tests and Procedures Fact Sheet.”

OHSU School of Medicine: "What is Neurosurgery?"

The American Board of Neurological Surgery: “ABNS Board Certification Timeline.”

UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital: "Magnetoencephalography (MEG scan)."

Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis: “Lumbar Disc Herniation.”

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