The nervous system is the most complex system of the entire body, and it is often referred to as the body’s electrical wiring. Through an extremely intricate network of nerve cells (neurons) and other supporting structures, the nervous system allows for messages to be transmitted to and from the brain, spinal cord and every other part of the body. This communication network is essential for your body to function properly, but if a problem arises within it, treatment from a neurosurgeon may be necessary.
What is a Neurosurgeon?
A neurosurgeon is a medical specialist that diagnoses and treats diseases, injuries and conditions of the nervous system and its supporting structures. Neurosurgeons can treat disorders affecting either the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord, or the peripheral nervous system, which consists of all the other neurons and related structures throughout the rest of the body.
What education is required to become a neurosurgeon?
The path to becoming a neurosurgeon is one of the most difficult and time-consuming in the medical field. After four years of pre-medical education at a college or university, four years of medical school and a one-year internship in general surgery, they must enter a residency program for 5-7 years. The residency is long and difficult, covering all aspects of neurosurgery, and some opt to do an additional fellowship in a particular area of the body, injury type or age group after completing it. Due to their extensive training, neurosurgeons are often called upon by emergency room doctors, neurologists, family practitioners and other medical professionals for consultations.
Diseases, injuries and conditions treated by neurosurgeons
A neurosurgeon can treat a wide range of nervous system-related issues, some of which include the following:
- Tumors of the brain, spinal cord, nerves, skull or spine
- Spinal problems that result in neck or back pain (e.g. bulging or ruptured disc, infection or fracture)
- Peripheral nerve injuries
- Neurovascular disorders: stroke, brain hemorrhage, aneurysms, blood clots of the brain or spinal cord, carotid artery disease
- Brain disorders like Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and birth defects of the brain
- Traumatic injuries to the brain, spinal cord, nerves and skull
- Infections of the brain or spinal cord
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
Despite the name, neurosurgeons do not only perform surgery. Depending on the condition or injury, they will determine what the best course of treatment is and whether or not surgery is necessary. You may be surprised to read that today, treatment is more often non-surgical than surgical, and that many neurosurgeons actually perform more procedures on the spine than the brain.
When you should see a neurosurgeon
In most situations, your primary care doctor or another medical specialist will refer you to a neurosurgeon if they believe it’s necessary. This will usually only occur if there have been questionable findings from radiological imaging studies—like an MRI or CT scan—and/or persisting symptoms that involve the nervous system. Your neurosurgeon may perform additional tests and exams to help get to the root of your problem, and based on these results and other factors, will present you with treatment options and their best recommendations for your condition.
Each case and each patient is different, but surgery is usually only reserved for certain situations. Neurosurgeons will typically recommend surgery if a number of non-surgical treatments have failed to lead to improvement and significant pain and symptoms continue. Surgery may also be necessary if you develop sudden weakness in your arm(s) or leg(s), changes in your bowel or bladder function or if you have severe pain that suddenly goes away.
At Raleigh Neurosurgical Clinic, our neurosurgeons work with patients individually to determine the source of his or her problem, and then present them with our best treatment advice to help them decide what to do next. From there, we will help every step of the way to ensure a safe and successful recovery. For more information or to schedule an appointment at Raleigh Neurosurgical Clinic in Raleigh, NC, contact us at 919-785-3400, or request an appointment online.