The central nervous system is a complex structure consisting of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves that act as the control center for the human body. Movement, speech, breathing, eating, learning, feeling, and thinking all depend on an efficient central nervous system.
Neurosurgery is the branch of surgery that involves the nervous system. It encompasses brain disorders, meninges and skull, and their associated blood vessels. It also treats damaged pituitary glands, spinal cords, vertebral columns and cranial and spinal nerves.
There are 600+ diseases of the neurological system, many requiring neurosurgical management. These range from infections and spinal cord injuries to degenerative diseases and traumatic head injuries.
What follows is a simplified dictionary of terms for patients and caregivers of neurosurgery patients that includes common neurological disorders requiring surgery, diagnostic tests, and surgical treatments.
Neurological Disorders Requiring Surgery
Ankylosing spondylitis– inflammatory condition involving the spine and skeleton.
Arachnoid cysts– fluid-filled sacs located between the brain or spinal cord and the membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord.
Arteriovenous malformation (AVMs)- abnormal clusters of arteries and veins in the central nervous system.
Brain abscess– collection of pus, immune cells and other brain matter usually caused by a bacterial or fungal infection.
Brain aneurysm– balloon or bubble-like growth where a major artery branches into smaller arteries, often at the base of the brain.
Brain lesions- an abnormality (dark or light spots) seen on a brain-imaging test.
Brain tumors– cancerous growths in the brain.
Disc herniation–disc penetrates the spinal canal causing pain, numbness or weakness.
Dural arteriovenous fistulae (DAVF)-abnormal connection between veins and arteries around the brain or spinal cord.
Dystonia-involuntary muscle contractions force certain parts of the body into abnormal, painful, movements or postures.
Encephalopathy– altered brain function or structure.
Epilepsy– recurrent seizures caused by abnormal activity of nerve cells (neurons) in the brain.
Episodic ataxia– conditions affecting the nervous system that impair proper movement.
Fucosidosis- intellectual disability that worsens with age and may develop into dementia.
Glioma- common primary brain tumor.
Headaches– primary headaches (migraine, cluster, and tension) are not caused by an underlying medical condition. Secondary headaches are caused by disease or medical conditions.
Head & neck cancers– cancers of the head and neck.
Hemorrhages– spontaneous intracranial hemorrhage (brain hemorrhage) and hemorrhagic stroke.
Hepatic encephalopathy (HE), or portosystemic encephalopathy (PSE)- temporary deterioration of brain function due to advanced liver disease.
Hydrocephalus- a buildup of fluid in the brain caused by inadequate drainage or obstruction of cerebral spinal fluid in the brain.
Intracranial hypertension (IH)- when cerebrospinal fluid pressure within the skull is too high.
Klüver-Bucy syndrome– a rare behavioral impairment due to damage to the anterior temporal lobes of the brain.
Memory disorders– may be caused by small strokes in the brain, diabetes, high blood pressure, nutritional deficiencies, reactions to medications, and alcoholism.
Multiple sclerosis (MS)– a chronic autoimmune disease that causes lesions on the brain and spinal cord.
Neurosurgery-surgical treatment of the nervous system and its coverings.
Paresthesia– burning or prickling sensation in hands, arms, legs, or feet, often due to underlying neurological disease or traumatic nerve damage.
Parkinson’s disease- gradual degeneration of nerve cells in the area of the brain that controls movement.
Peripheral neuropathy– damaged peripheral nerves located outside of the brain and spinal cord.
Porencephaly- when a cyst or cavity filled with cerebrospinal fluid develops in the brain.
Pseudotumor cerebri– when the pressure inside the skull increases due to buildup or poor absorption of cerebrospinal fluid.
Scoliosis– an abnormal curvature of the spine.
Seizure- convulsions due to sudden, violent, uncontrollable contractions of muscles caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain.
Spinal cord tumors- cancer in the spine.
Spine deformities– kyphosis (curvature causing a hunched back), and spondylolisthesis (one vertebra slips forward onto the one below it).
Spinal stenosis– when a damaged bone impacts adjacent nerves.
Spine trauma– injuries to bones, spinal cord, and adjacent nerves.
Stroke– blood vessel in the brain becomes blocked or bursts, sometimes causing permanent brain injury or even death.
Tay-Sachs disease– a rare inherited disorder that progressively destroys nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
Trigeminal neuralgia– sudden, brief episodes of severe stabbing or electric shock-like pain in the face.
Vascular dementia (VaD)- common type of elder dementia that causes a subtle, progressive decline of memory and other brain functioning due to reduced blood flow in the brain.
Vertigo– imbalance in the vestibular system (inner ear, vestibular nerve, brain stem and cerebellum) that controls sensory perception, coordination, and motor control.
Williams syndrome– a developmental disorder characterized by mild to moderate intellectual disability or learning problems, unique personality characteristics, distinctive facial features, and heart and blood vessel problems.
Diagnostic Tests & Surgical Treatments
Angiography– detects blockages in arteries or veins.
Anterior temporal lobectomy– removal of anterior temporal lobe for uncontrollable temporal epilepsy.
Biopsy– removal of tissue to diagnose disorders and defective genes.
Brachytherapy- radiation directly inside or close to a tumor.
Brain mapping– 3D, precision imaging technology used for brain surgeries.
Brain scans– imaging techniques to diagnose tumors, blood vessel malformations, or brain hemorrhages.
Brain tissue transplantation- transference of brain tissue from a fetus or live individual.
Cerebral decortication-partial or total removal or destruction of the cerebral cortex.
Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)–extraction and analysis of fluid that protects the brain and spinal cord to detect bleeding, hemorrhages, infections, neurological conditions, and measure intracranial pressure.
Clipping & Coiling-treatment options for aneurysms.
CyberKnife–advanced, painless, noninvasive form of radiosurgery for targeted radiation.
Computed tomography (CT scan)-noninvasive, painless process that produces two-dimensional images of organs, bones, and tissues.
CT-guided spinal injections-when a CT scan is used to accurately pinpoint and treat the source of back or neck pain with the injection of medication.
Craniectomy–partial removal of the skull.
Craniotomy-surgical removal of bone from the skull to expose the brain.
Deep brain stimulation (DBS)-advanced brain surgery to treat Parkinson’s disease and dystonia.
Discography-imaging test for lumbar surgery or lower back pain.
Disc replacement-artificial spinal disc replacement surgery.
Electroencephalography (EEG)-monitors brain activity through the skull, to diagnose seizure disorders, brain tumors, brain trauma, inflammation, alcoholism, certain psychiatric disorders, and metabolic and degenerative disorders.
Electromyography (EMG)-used to diagnose nerve and muscle dysfunction or spinal cord disease.
Electronystagmography (ENG)-diagnoses involuntary eye movement, dizziness, and balance disorders and evaluates some brain functions.
Evoked potentials (evoked response)-measures electrical signals to the brain generated by hearing, touch, or sight.
Extreme lateral interbody fusion (XLIF)-a minimally invasive procedure through the side to treat spinal disorders and reduce long-term back or leg pain.
Functional neurosurgery- treats movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor, and dystonia.
Gamma knife– advanced radiation treatment for small to medium brain tumors, arteriovenous malformations, and epilepsy.
Hyperthermia- a radiation treatment that uses high heat levels to kill small cancer tumors, and low heat levels to boost the effectiveness of radiation and chemotherapy.
Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)– advanced 3D radiation therapy, delivering radiation while minimizing the exposure of healthy tissue.
Intrathecal contrast-enhanced CT scan (cisternography)- detects problems with the spine and spinal nerve roots.
Lumbar puncture (LP)- spinal tap for cerebrospinal fluid for examination and diagnosis.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-uses computer-generated radio waves and a powerful magnetic field to produce detailed images for diagnosis.
Minimally invasive endonasal endoscopic surgery-accessing and removing brain tumors or lesions through the nose and sinuses without making an incision in the skull.
Minimally invasive neuroendoscopy-uses endoscopes to remove brain tumors.
Nerve blocks-injecting local anesthetic around the junction of multiple nerves to interrupt pain signals to the brain.
Neurointervention-less invasive treatment for conditions within brain and spinal cavity vessels.
Neurosonography-ultrasound of the brain and spinal column.
Positron emission tomography (PET scans)– 2D and 3D pictures of brain activity and disorders obtained by measuring radioactive isotopes injected into the bloodstream.
Polysomnogram– measures brain and body activity during sleep.
Pyelography- injection of a contrast dye into the spinal canal for X-ray imaging of the spine.
Single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT)- nuclear imaging test to evaluate certain brain functions.
Spinal cord stimulation- delivers mild electrical impulses to the spinal cord that interrupt pain signals to the brain.
Spinal fusion surgery for scoliosis– fuses vertebrae together to decrease movement and correct deformity of the spine.
Stereotactic neurosurgery- uses imaging studies to identify damaged areas and treat them through a tiny opening in the skull, called a burr hole.
Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS)- a minimally invasive approach to the treatment of brain tumors and other brain disorders.
Thermography- infrared sensing devices used to measure temperature changes between the two sides of the body or within a specific organ in order to detect disease.
Ultrasound imaging– using high-frequency sound waves applied on the outside of the body to obtain images of inside the body.
Vagal nerve stimulation- a procedure to reduce the frequency and intensity of seizures.
At Front Range Spine and Neurosurgery, we believe that an informed patient is the best patient. We practice comprehensive, patient-centered care designed to help you achieve the best possible outcomes. If you’ve experienced a head injury or have neck, back, or leg pain, call us today at (303) 790-1800 or use our online form to request an appointment.