What is the difference between a Neurologist and a Neurosurgeon?

Neurologist and Neurosurgeon
What is the difference between a Neurologist and a Neurosurgeon?

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a Neurologist and a Neurosurgeon? It’s a question that I’m asked frequently, especially when I recommend that a patient be reviewed by a Neurologist for their brain or spine condition!

Both are highly trained medical specialists, and both treat disorders of the nervous system (brain, spine and peripheral nerves), but a Neurosurgeon operates on the nervous system whereas a Neurologist does not. This distinction is probably the easiest way to think about it, but of course it’s a little more complicated than just that.

Another way to think about the differences is to look at the different types of disease that each specialist treats, as these are typically distinct although there can be some crossover. Neurologists for example are experts in treating conditions including stroke, seizures, Multiple Sclerosis, and movement disorders like Parkinson’s Disease. Neurosurgeons on the other hand treat nervous system conditions for which an operation may be part of an appropriate management strategy, and these include brain tumours, aneurysms, cerebral haemorrhages, traumatic brain injury, and spine disease such as vertebral fractures and disc prolapses. Not all ‘Neurosurgical’ disease requires an operation to manage, and in fact many patients who see a Neurosurgeon will never need an operation at all. Furthermore, there is often a degree of overlap between the two specialties; some stroke patients may require lifesaving surgery, some Parkinson’s Disease patients can have surgery called Deep Brain Stimulation to help manage their movement disorder symptoms, and some brain tumour patients will have a Neurologist as part of their treating team.

You may have a neurological condition and are unsure about whether you need to see a Neurologist or a Neurosurgeon, and that’s quite alright. To see a Neurologist or a Neurosurgeon you will need a referral from your General Practitioner, and your GP is highly trained to know which type of neurological specialist is best to manage your condition. And sometimes it’s quite appropriate for you to see both types of specialists; as I mentioned earlier, I not infrequently recommend some of my patients see a Neurologist as part of their management or to help with a tricky diagnosis.

For more information about treatment of Neurosurgical conditions visit

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