What Is a Neurologist?

Medically Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on July 16, 2023
3 min read

Neurologists are doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of various disorders of the brain, spinal cord, and nervous system as a whole.

The human nervous system consists of the central and peripheral nervous systems. The brain and spinal cord are the keys to your central nervous system. The large network of nerve cells throughout your body makes up the peripheral nervous system. 

Since neurology is such a varied field, your doctor might refer you to one of the many subspecialties of neurology. A few of the most common recognized subspecialties include: 

Neurologists are trained to diagnose and treat conditions such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and brain tumors, among others. Although they don’t perform surgery, they can help you better understand the condition you have and refer you to a neurosurgeon as needed. 

Your neurologist will probably do a series of tests to narrow down the root causes of your complaint. They’ll ask you a few questions about your medical history and symptoms, so it’s a good idea to write down any health information that might be relevant before your appointment. You may also want to bring a list of questions. 

Neurologists go through medical school like other doctors, They must also complete: 

  • A one-year internship in internal medicine 
  • Three years of residency training in the field of neurology specifically 
  • An optional one or two years studying a subspecialty of neurology, such as epilepsy or peripheral neuropathy

In addition, neurologists are required to complete a written examination given by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology before they’re allowed to practice. 

Many aspects of the nervous system are beyond the scope of general medicine. Although your regular doctor probably has some understanding of issues affecting the nervous system, they may refer you to a specialist to help you get a more accurate diagnosis and receive more targeted treatment. There are many reasons why your doctor might refer you to a neurologist, including: 

Frequent headaches or migraines

Headaches are often described as a dull, throbbing pain that can last anywhere from a few hours to days at a time. Neurologists have access to precision scanning equipment that help discern the cause of a headache and prescribe appropriate medication or other treatment. 

Neurological injuries

Injuries to the brain, spinal cord, or peripheral nervous system are one of the most commonly cited reasons for a neurological referral. The delicate nature of the nervous system means that even relatively minor activities can have larger effects. They can cause symptoms like seizures, disorientation, confusion, and numbness. 

Neurologists can work with your regular doctor to create a treatment plan that works for you, whether it includes medication, physical therapy, or other options. 

Memory loss

Although some degree of forgetfulness is common as you age, sudden or severe memory loss can have a huge impact on your person’s daily life. It can also be a sign of an underlying neurological problem. Neurologists can test your memory and cognitive abilities and also use imaging tests, like a CT scan or MRI, to identify any deeper issues that could be to blame. 

Receiving an accurate diagnosis is the first and most necessary step toward getting the right treatment. Neurologists have various tools at their disposal to help them achieve this, such as: 

These and other tests can help neurologists develop an understanding of your reflexes, coordination, cognitive function, sensitivity to touch, and more. Finding problems with any one of these or other qualities could be an important sign. 

Based on the results of these tests, your neurologist will create a specific course of action and treatment schedule. Many neurological issues are resolved through medication and physical therapy, but you may need more complicated treatments. This could include referral to a neurosurgeon, if your condition is serious.