Neurology is a branch of medicine dealing with disorders of the nervous system. Physicians specializing in the field of neurology are called neurologists and are trained to diagnose, treat, and manage patients with neurological disorders. Most neurologists are trained to treat and diagnose adults. Pediatric neurologists, nearly always a subspecialty of pediatrics, treat neurological disease in children. Neurologists are also involved in clinical research, clinical trials, as well as basic research and translational research. Neurological disorders are disorders that affect the central nervous system (brain, brainstem and cerebellum), the peripheral nervous system (peripheral nerves – cranial nerves included), or the autonomic nervous system (parts of which are located in both central and peripheral nervous system). Neurologists also diagnose and treat some conditions in the musculoskeletal system.
A doctor who specializes in neurology is called a neurologist. The neurologist treats disorders that affect the brain, spinal cord, and nerves, such as:
Cerebrovascular disease, such as stroke
Demyelinating diseases of the central nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis
Infections of the brain and peripheral nervous system
Movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease
Neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease)
Seizure disorders, such as epilepsy
Spinal cord disorders
Speech and language disorders
What does a neurologist do?
Neurologists manage and treat neurological conditions, or problems with the nervous system. Symptoms that commonly require a neurologist include:
- coordination problems
- muscle weakness
- a change in sensation
Neurologists also see patients with:
- seizure disorders, such as epilepsy
- multiple sclerosis
- neuromuscular disorders, such as myasthenia gravis
- infections of the nervous system, including encephalitis, meningitis, or brain abscesses
- neurodegenerative disorders, such as Lou Gehrig’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease
- spinal cord disorders, including inflammatory and autoimmune disorders
- headaches, such as cluster headaches and migraines
Typical neurological procedures
During your first appointment with a neurologist, they will likely perform a physical exam and a neurological exam. A neurological exam will test muscle strength, reflexes, and coordination. Since different disorders can have similar symptoms, your neurologist may need more testing to make a diagnosis.
Neurologists may recommend a variety of procedures to help diagnose or treat a condition. These procedures may include:
Your neurologist may use a lumbar puncture to test your spinal fluid. They may recommend the procedure if they believe your symptoms are caused by a problem in your nervous system that can be detected in your spinal fluid. The procedure involves inserting a needle into the spine after numbing it and taking a sample of spinal fluid.
This procedure can help your neurologist diagnose myasthenia gravis. In this test, your doctor injects you with a medicine called Tensilon. Then they observe how it affects your muscle movements.
By applying electrodes to your scalp, this test measures electrical activity in the brain.
Neurologists may use other types of tests, as well. Although they may not perform the test, they may order it, review it, and interpret the results.
To make a diagnosis, a neurologist may use imaging tests such as:
- Computed tomography, or CT scan
- Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI scan
- Positron emission tomography, or PET scan
Other diagnostic procedures include sleep studies and angiography. Angiography determines blockages in the blood vessels going to the brain.
Your neurologist may help you manage your symptoms and neurological disorder alone, or with your primary care physician and other specialists.