Unexplained headaches, dizziness, and other brain-related pain can all be worrying symptoms to face on your own. If you have a problem with your central nervous system — aka your brain and your spinal cord — you’ll work with a neurologist and a neurosurgeon. 

But what are the differences between a neurologist and a neurosurgeon? And how do you know which specialist to seek out?

Read on to learn about the differences and similarities between these two professions so you can be better prepared to seek help. 

What Does a Neurologist Do?

A neurologist is a specialist who is focused on ailments surround the central nervous system. Neurologists go through four years of medical school, one year of internship, and at least three years of residency.

Neurologists are experts in their field. Many also choose to undergo extra training to pursue a specialty, like pediatric neurology (the study of children’s brains).

Neurologists have the ability to diagnose, order tests like CT or CAT scans and MRIs, and they often work closely with a patient for treatment. What they cannot do, however, is perform surgery. That’s where a neurosurgeon comes in. 

What Does a Neurosurgeon Do?

Neurosurgeons also go through four years of medical school and one year of internship. However, their residency is the longest of any surgical specialties and takes seven years to complete. 

The central nervous system is a very complex system in the body. Therefore, neurosurgeons must go through rigorous training to perform their incredibly important tasks. 

Neurosurgeons are usually referred to a patient by the patient’s neurologist, and the two doctors often work very closely together to treat the patient. So when it comes down to the question of neurosurgeons vs neurologists, you’ll likely actually be working with both as a team. 

What Conditions Do They Treat?

Neurologists treat many brain and nerve-related disorders. Some examples would be epilepsy, chronic migraines, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), strokes, Tourette’s syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s, just to name a few. 

Neurologists will also treat infections and diseases like cancer that target the brain. Another common reason that you will be referred to a neurologist is if you have suffered a brain injury. 

Neurosurgeons often treat spinal disorders and conditions, like herniated discs, scoliosis, and spinal stenosis. They also operate on patients whenever necessary to help treat and alleviate back and neck pain. 

Neurosurgeons can also remove tumors, operate on brain injuries, and repair fractures in the spine or skull. 

When Should I Make an Appointment? 

Some symptoms that could indicate the need to see a neurologist or neurosurgeon are:

  • Chronic or severe headaches and migraines
  • Memory loss or confusion
  • Vertigo and dizziness
  • New tremors, tics, or other movement problems
  • Chronic pain

Your central nervous system is a crucial and complex part of your body, and it’s important to take care of it. If you notice any significant change in the frequency of headaches, memory, movement, or balance, you should seek a referral as soon as possible. 

If you are in the Nashville area, the expert team of neurosurgeons at Howell Allen is well-equipped to help you. Feel free to browse our other blog articles to learn more about neurosurgery or contact the team directly with your medical concerns.