The entire nervous system is so complex that there are multiple types of practitioners that treat different parts of the system. Any doctor who works primarily with the brain and nervous system is a neurologist. Doctors who work specifically with disorders of the nervous system and the electrical aspects of the brain are known as neurophysiologists.
What Does a Neurophysiologist Do?
Neurophysiologists are qualified to diagnose and treat a number of conditions related to the nervous system, including:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Lou Gehrig’s Disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis)
- Motor neuron disease
- Tourette’s syndrome
- Multiple sclerosis
Neurophysiologists often use electricity-based procedures such as electromyography or electroencephalography to diagnose disorders.
In many cases, the disorders neurophysiologists treat cannot be reversed, but they can be lessen the effects or slow their progression. These doctors may:
- Monitor the condition
- Prescribe medication to reduce symptoms
- Assist during neurosurgery to correct problems
- Manage outpatient deep brain stimulation and similar treatments
Education and Training
Neurophysiologists are medical doctors who are trained in the field of neurology, with a focus on the nervous system. After completing medical school, a 1-year internship in general medicine is completed, followed by residency training in neurology. Those who want to focus on treating children, may specialize in pediatrics instead.
After graduating from medical school, neurophysiologists then complete:
- A three-year residency period in neurology and neurophysiology specifically
- An exam to become certified by the American Board of Pediatrics or the American Board of Internal Medicine
A two-year neurology and neurophysiology fellowship and exam to be certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, or one of several other more specialized boards
Reasons to See a Neurophysiologist
You are unlikely to reach out to a neurophysiologist on your own. Instead, your primary care physician will refer you to one.
Frequent, Serious Headaches
If you have painful headaches or migraines with any regularity, your doctor may have a neurophysiologist check for more serious conditions.
Tingling and numbness are often the result of problems with your nerves. If your hands or feet ever start to go numb or tingle without a clear cause, you may be in the early stages of one of a number of nervous system disorders. Your doctor may send you to a neurophysiologist to help identify the cause of the feeling.
Seizures are a common sign of epilepsy, but can also be caused by other conditions.. If you have even one seizure, your doctor may refer you to a neurophysiologist for testing to find the cause.
Neurophysiologists can test for a number of sleep disorders, including narcolepsy. They use sleep EEG recordings to check for irregularities in electrical patterns in the brain during sleep.
What to Expect at the Neurophysiologist
Your first visit to a neurophysiologist is likely to involve a number of tests. These tests generally involve testing and recording the function of your body’s nervous system. Many tests done by a neurophysiologist will include the application of electrodes to your skin. The tests are designed to record your body’s natural electrical signals, not to affect them. The tests do not hurt.
They may include:
EEGs: During an EEG, electrodes - small metal discs - are applied to your scalp in a number of places. These electrodes will monitor your brain’s electrical signals to check for inconsistencies.
EMGs: An EMG test involves the application of electrodes to your skin on your arms, legs, and torso. These electrodes monitor the electrical signals in your nerves, checking to see how your muscles are reacting to these signals.
Evoked potential tests: During this test, the doctor checks to see how quickly your nerves send information to your brain. Electrodes will be places on your scalp, then you may either watch a visual pattern on a screen or receive small electrical impulses to your arms or legs.