A neurologist is a doctor who specializes in treating diseases of the nervous system. The nervous system comprises the central and peripheral nervous system. This complex system involves the spinal cord and the brain.
Illnesses, disorders, and injuries that involve the nervous system frequently require a neurologist’s treatment.
In addition to graduating from medical school and completing an internship, neurologists complete three years’ training in a neurology residency program.
Neurologists treat neurological conditions, or problems with the nervous system. Symptoms that commonly require a neurologist include:
- coordination problems
- muscle weakness
- a decrease in sensation
People who are having problems with their senses, such as touch, vision, or smell, may also need to see a neurologist. Problems with senses are sometimes caused by nervous system disorders.
You may also need to see a neurologist if you have symptoms of multiple sclerosis, such as tingling, loss of bowel control, or vision loss.
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, neurologists may also treat patients with:
- seizure disorders, such as epilepsy
- 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, migraines, and headaches of unknown origin
Because the nervous system is complex, a neurologist may specialize in a specific area. Subspecialties have evolved in order to narrow a doctor’s focus. For example, some doctors specialize in treating children with neurological problems.
Some examples of subspecialties are:
- headache medicine
- clinical neuromuscular pathology
- neurocritical care
- geriatric neurology
- autonomic disorders
With a new patient, a neurologist will start with a physical exam and a neurological exam. A neurological exam will test muscle strength, reflexes, and coordination. Since different disorders can have similar symptoms, doctors often need additional testing to make a diagnosis.
Neurologists participate in a variety of procedures to help diagnose or treat a condition. Typical procedures include:
If a doctor believes symptoms of an illness are related to a spinal fluid infection, he or she may perform a lumbar puncture. The procedure involves inserting a needle into the spine and taking a sample of spinal fluid.
This procedure can help diagnose certain neuromuscular disorders. It involves the administration of edrophonium chloride.
Also known as an EEG, this test measures electrical activity in the brain.
Neurologists use other types of tests, as well. Although they may not perform the diagnostic test, they may order it, review it, and interpret the results.
In order to make a diagnosis, a neurologist may use:
- computed tomography (CT) scans
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- positron emission tomography (PET scan)
Additional diagnostic procedures include sleep studies and angiography, which determines blockages in the blood vessels going to the brain.