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Neurology is the medical specialty focusing on the diagnosis and treatment of conditions that affect the brain and nervous system, as well as the spinal cord, blood vessels, muscles, and nerves. These conditions are treated by physicians in two related specialties: neurology services and neurosurgery.
Both professionals treat people with conditions and injuries related to the nervous system. So why is there a distinction of neurologist vs. neurosurgeon? This guide will explain the differences and similarities between the two.
What Is a Neurologist?
According to the American Academy of Neurology, a neurologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of brain and nervous system conditions. Neurologists use diagnostic tests like electroencephalograms (EEG), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computer-assisted tomography (CAT) scans to identify neurological conditions. Neurologists may specialize in the treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders, learning disabilities, pain management, and other chronic conditions.
If you or a loved one has a neurological disorder that necessitates regular care, a neurologist will often be your primary health care provider. A neurologist can also treat your neurological disorder, and then advise or consult your primary care or internal medicine doctor and other physicians to help manage your overall health.
What Conditions Do Neurologists Treat?
Common neurological disorders that a neurologist may treat include headaches, sleep disorders, tremors, epilepsy, brain and spinal cord injuries, brain tumors, strokes, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and peripheral nerve disorders.
What Is a Neurosurgeon?
According to the American College of Surgeons, a neurosurgeon is a medical doctor who diagnoses and treats conditions of the brain, spine, and nervous system through surgical and nonsurgical treatments based on the type of injury or illness. Due to their extensive training in the diagnosis of neurological diseases, neurosurgeons are often requested by other physicians — emergency room doctors, neurologists, internists, and general practitioners — for consultations.
What Conditions Do Neurosurgeons Treat?
Neurosurgeons are trained to treat people with trauma to the brain and spine, aneurysms, blocked arteries, chronic low-back pain, birth defects, tumors in the brain and spinal cord, and peripheral nerve issues. Neurosurgeons also perform surgeries for carpal tunnel syndrome, brain and spinal tumor removal surgery, and spinal surgery. They also treat conditions not requiring surgery like Parkinson's disease or low-back pain, according to the Oregon Health & Science University.
Neurologist vs. Neurosurgeon
There are considerable differences between neurologists and neurosurgeons. When it comes to medical management, however, there is also significant overlap between the two.
Neurosurgery is closely associated with neurology in that both require specialized knowledge of the nervous system and its functions. Both neurosurgeons and neurologists may perform complex neurological testing like EEG, MRI, and CT scans to monitor the brain, and both may use minimally invasive procedures to repair blood vessels within the brain.
While both neurologists and neurosurgeons diagnose and treat conditions that involve the nervous system, neurologists don't perform surgery. Neurologists are focused on discovering diagnosis-specific neurological conditions that can be corrected — via medications or other therapies — or require close management. However, if your diagnosis exposes a physical cause for a neurological condition, a neurologist may make a referral to a neurosurgeon if surgery is needed to remove or correct the condition to improve your outcome.
If you have a nerve, spinal, or brain issue, consult with your primary care doctor. Your doctor may give you a referral to see a neurologist or a neurosurgeon based on your condition.