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Neurosurgery is a surgical specialty focused on the nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves, and related supporting structures (bones, ligaments, blood vessels).
The nervous system controls all workings of the body, from the most basic to the most complex. Organ function, movement, speech, sensory perception, thinking, learning and memory all depend on the nervous system. When problems arise in the system, symptoms can include anything from weakness, numbness or pain to difficulty walking, balance problems, speech abnormalities, changes in hearing or vision or problems concentrating. The specific symptoms depend on which of the nervous system structures are affected, the underlying cause of the problem, and the severity of the disorder.
Physicians who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of nervous system disorders generally divide into those who perform surgery (neurosurgeons) and those who do not (neurologists). While there is overlap in the realm of care provided by both types of specialists, neurosurgeons tend to focus on problems that involve or affect nervous system structures that are amenable to surgical treatment. Common treatment approaches include traditional open surgery, minimally invasive and endovascular surgery, and stereotactic radiosurgery.
Disorders commonly treated by neurosurgeons include degenerative conditions of spine (back or neck), herniated disks, vertebral compression fractures, tumors or injuries of the brain or spine/spinal cord, spine infections, and pain syndromes (carpal tunnel syndrome, neuropathic pain, back or neck pain). Some neurosurgeons may specialize in spine surgery or in surgical treatment of specific brain disorders, such as epilepsy or stroke.
Despite what their name suggests, neurosurgeons do more than perform surgery. They also are skilled in the use and interpretation of specialized tests needed to pinpoint the cause of a patient's symptoms and to plan treatment, whether surgery is involved or not. Tests include advanced imaging studies of the brain and spinal cord, blood vessel studies (carotid ultrasonography, cerebral angiography), studies measuring electrical activity in the brain in response to various stimuli (evoked potentials), tests of the electrical activity in the brain (electroencephalography), tests of nerve or muscle function, spinal fluid tests (spinal tap), and nerve root blocks.
Once a diagnosis is reached, the neurosurgeon's role in patient care varies depending on the treatment plan. For example, if a surgical procedure is recommended, a neurosurgeon may initially treat the patient and then serve as a consultant on the patient's ongoing care, working with other physicians as appropriate (e.g., primary care physician, neurologist, other specialists). If non-operative treatment is recommended, a neurosurgeon may be the principal care provider (e.g., if the patient requires only medications) or may refer the patient for physical therapy or rehabilitation.
For more information about neurosurgeons on the Medical Staff at The Chester County Hospital and Health System, call our Physician Referral Service at 610.738.2300 or visit theFind a Doctor section of our website.
Last Updated: 2/25/2013