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What Is the Difference Between a Neurologist and Neurosurgeon?

A neurosurgeon performs major brain and nervous system surgeries.
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  • Written By: B. Chisholm
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 August 2014
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Both a neurologist and neurosurgeon are specialist doctors who deal with disorders of the central nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord, nerves and muscles. The main difference between the two lies in the fact that neurosurgeons perform surgery, while neurologists treat patients only non-surgically, or "outwardly." Should the patient of a neurologist require surgical intervention, they will then be referred to a neurosurgeon. Neurosurgeons, on the other hand, may treat patients both "outwardly" and surgically.

Disorders of the central nervous system include muscular conditions such as cerebral palsy, seizure disorders such as epilepsy, behavioral conditions such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), brain defects and acute traumas, such as head injuries. Both a neurologist and neurosurgeon, or just one of them, may be required by a patient, depending on the condition being treated and its severity. In some cases, surgical intervention is necessary initially, which will be performed by the neurosurgeon, and long-term follow up may be handled by the neurologist or neurosurgeon.

One of the differences between a neurologist and neurosurgeon are their qualifications, or the time it takes to qualify, due to the specialty of surgery. While both the neurologist and neurosurgeon complete their four year undergraduate medical degree, one year internship and two to three year specialization in neurology, the neurosurgeon follows this up with a neurosurgery residency program, which may take a further five to seven years. Neurosurgery is a precise and specialized field which is constantly changing as technology advances, necessitating this long study period.

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After qualifying, both neurologists and neurosurgeons may choose to specialize in a specific area of neurology, be it pediatric, geriatric, spinal cord injuries or behavioral disorders. The scope is broad and the specialties include many more than just these. When choosing whether to consult a neurologist or neurosurgeon, the condition being treated needs to be evaluated, usually in consultation with a family doctor, or general practitioner. Often, long-term consultation will be needed in the case of central nervous system disorders.

While both neurologist and neurosurgeon are specialists in their chosen fields, the treatment of neurological disorders often involves a multi-faceted intervention. Other health care professionals, such as psychologists, physiotherapists, nutritional therapists and occupational therapists may form part of the treatment team. Medication, often long-term, may also form part of treatment, along with physical and psychological input. The neurologist and neurosurgeon will refer the patient to other medical professionals as necessary, according to the condition being treated.

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