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Specialists in neurosurgery are knowledgeable in hundreds of conditions that affect the entire body. Most of these conditions stem from damage or deformities in the nervous system, the brain included.

What is a neurosurgeon?

You've undoubtedly heard someone exclaim, "It's not exactly brain surgery." Well, the field of neurosurgery is exactly that, among other things.

Neurosurgery is the medical practice that addresses emergencies, diseases and syndromes affecting the nervous system, which includes the brain, spine, arteries in the neck and peripheral nerves.

The peripheral nerves send information from the entire body to the brain and also usher information from the brain to the muscles. The peripheral nerves run through the spinal column and branch out to the arms, legs, chest, abdomen, pelvis, neck and brain. Without the proper functioning of these nerves, you wouldn't be to move around.

Neurosurgeons can treat an array of conditions, from back trauma to Parkinson's disease. A neurosurgeon offers both operative and nonoperative treatments for these conditions. Before offering any treatment plan, the neurosurgeon first administers tests to diagnose the condition. Treatment options offered include monitoring, rehabilitation, physical therapy, medicine and surgery.

Neurosurgeons receive special training that includes four years of medical school, six months or more of hands-on surgical internship in a surgical department and at least seven years in a neurosurgical residency program that must be accredited by the American Council on Graduate Medical Education.

Who needs a neurosurgeon?

Your primary care physician has knowledge that encompasses many systems in the body, including the nervous system. Your doctor can treat some conditions that affect the nervous system, but if your condition falls out of the general field of treatment, he or she will refer you to a neurosurgery specialist. You can choose to see a neurosurgeon for your condition, or your family doctor can refer you if you require special or long-term treatment.

People are likely to need a neurosurgeon if they experience tumors or other abnormal growths in the spinal column, leg or back pains due to compressed or damaged nerves, broken bones in the neck or back, blood clots or abnormal growths in the brain, bleeding into the brain, severe head trauma, seizures, blocked carotid arteries and carpal tunnel syndrome.

To treat these conditions, the neurosurgeon obtains medical records from your general practitioner. Based on the information provided, the neurosurgeon decides how to diagnose and treat the condition. Often, a neurosurgeon repeats tests given to you in the hospital or by your general doctor, such as blood work, nerve studies or ultrasound.

Choosing a neurosurgeon

Often, your doctor simply will refer you to a local neurosurgeon or one within your insurance network. If you can choose from a variety of neurosurgeons, you might wonder what to look for in a qualified candidate. Complete the following steps to help choose a neurosurgeon that's right for you.

Check the quality of care given by the neurosurgeon. Does the doctor listen to patients' concerns? Does the surgeon answer questions in a clear way (without jargon)? Look at a website such as Angie's List to get a rating on the neurosurgeon and read reviews from members. You can also verify their qualifications, education, continuing education, accepted insurance plans and affiliated hospitals.

Check to see if the neurosurgeon is in your insurance network. To do this, simply call and ask the practice, or ask the doctor referring you. You also can call your insurance company to be sure.