A neurologist is a medical doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system. Pediatric neurologist are doctors with specialized training in children’s neurological disorders.
A neurologist’s educational background and medical training include an undergraduate degree, four years of medical school, one year internship and three years of specialized training in neurology. Fellowship training is a year or more of further specialized training, such as neuro-muscular diseases, stroke, epilepsy or movement disorders.
Neurologists are principal care providers or consultants to other physicians. When a patient has a neurological disorder that requires frequent care, a neurologist is often the principal care provider. Patients with disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s or multiple sclerosis may use a neurologist as their principal care physician.
In a consulting role, a neurologist will diagnose and treat a neurological disorder and then advise the primary care physician managing the patient’s overall health. For example, a neurologist would act in a consulting role for conditions such as stroke, concussion or headache.
Neurologists can recommend surgical treatment, but do not perform surgery. When treatment includes surgery, neurologists will monitor surgically treated patients and supervise their continuing treatment. Neurosurgeons are medical doctor who specialize in performing surgical treatment of the brain and nervous system.
Neurologists treat disorders of the nervous system, brain, spinal cord, nerve and muscles. Common neurological disorders include:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Sleep disorder
- Seizure disorders
- Multiple sclerosis
- Pain disorders
- Movement disorders
- Brain and spinal cord injuries
- Brain tumors
- Peripheral neuropathies
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Learning/Attention problems
- Gille de la Tourette’s Syndrome
- Cerebral palsy
- Muscle diseases
- Neck and back pain
Many disorders can be treated. Treatment or symptomatic relief is different for each condition. To find treatment options, neurologists will perform and interpret tests of the brain or nervous system. Treatment can help patients with neurological disorders maintain the best possible quality of life.
During a neurological examination, the neurologist reviews the patient’s health history with special attention to the current condition. The patient then takes a neurological exam. Typically the exam tests mental status, cranial nerves, strength, coordination, reflexes and sensation. This information helps the neurologist determine if the problem is in the nervous system. Further tests may be needed to confirm a diagnosis or to find a specific treatment.
Nerve studies and Electromyography (EMG) - Electrodiagnostic medicine studies diseases of the nerves and muscles. They can help diagnose damaged nerves due to injury, metabolic imbalance or compression; as well as muscle diseases.
Electroencephalogram (EEG) - This painless test measures the electrical output of the brain by placing wires on the scalp. This is utilized in cases of seizures, passing out and confusion.
Computerized tomography (CAT) - The CAT scan is an x-ray test using a computer to image the brain in a two-dimensional fashion.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - The MRI is a more sophisticated method to image the brain using magnetic fields and radio waves. This painless test requires lying still for a short while in an open chamber.
Carotid Duplex/Transcranial Doppler (TCD) - These painless tests use sound waves to study blood flow into and inside the brain. Using a transducer (microphone), different brain blood vessels are observed to determine blockages or other blood flow abnormalities.
Evoked Potentials - This test records the brain response to different stimulations including visual, sound and sensory stimulation. It can be helpful in cases of dizziness, and visual or sensory disturbances, such as multiple sclerosis.