What Does a Neurologist Do?

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on August 17, 2023
5 min read

Neurologists are doctors who diagnose and treat problems with the brain and nervous system. They don't do surgery. Your doctor might recommend that you see one if they think you have an illness that needs expert care.

Neurologist training

A neurologist has at least a college degree and 4 years of medical school plus a 1-year internship and 3 years of special training in neurology. Many also spend extra time learning about a specific field, such as movement disorders or pain management.

Neurologist salary

How much a neurologist makes depends on where they work and what kind of practice they're part of. In 2022, the average annual wage for a neurologist was $301,000.

Neurologist vs. neurosurgeon

A neurologist doesn't perform surgeries. A neurosurgeon, as the name suggests, does surgeries on nerves, the spinal cord, and brain.

Pediatric neurologist

Just like a neurologist for adults, a pediatric neurologist treats and diagnoses conditions in the brain and nervous system, but for patients ranging from newborns to teens.

Your primary care doctor may refer you to a neurologist if you have:

  • Tingling or numbness
  • A condition where one side of your face doesn't match the other (such as not being able to fully smile or an eyelid drooping)
  • Vertigo
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Deafness
  • Memory loss or severe forgetfulness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Shock-like pain in any body part
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Tremors
  • Movement disorders (such as moving very slowly)
  • Changes in your smell or taste
  • Vision problems
  • Muscle weakness

Some of the conditions a neurologist treats are:

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease)
  • Back pain
  • Brain and spinal cord injury or infection
  • Brain tumor
  • Epilepsy
  • Headaches
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Peripheral neuropathy (a disease that affects your nerves)
  • Pinched nerves
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Tremors (uncontrollable movements)

Because neurology deals with your brain and entire nervous system, there are many conditions that a neurologist can diagnose and treat. Many go on to study a specific area of neurology after they finish their residency training.

A specialist might focus their training on:

  • Headache medicine
  • Sleep medicine
  • Neuromuscular medicine
  • Neurocritical care
  • Neuro-oncology
  • Geriatric neurology
  • Autonomic disorders
  • Vascular (stroke care) neurology
  • Child (pediatric) neurology
  • Interventional neuroradiology
  • Epilepsy


When you see a neurologist, they'll talk with you about your medical history and your symptoms. You'll also have a physical exam that focuses on your brain and nerves.

The neurologist may check your:

  • Mental status
  • Speech
  • Vision
  • Strength
  • Coordination
  • Reflexes
  • Sensation (how well you feel things)

They may have a good idea of your diagnosis from the exam, but you'll probably need other tests to confirm it. Depending on your symptoms, these might include:

  • Blood and urine tests to look for infections, toxins, or protein disorders
  • Imaging tests of the brain or spine to look for tumors, brain damage, or problems with your blood vessels, bones, nerves, or disks
  • A study of your brain function called an electroencephalograph, or EEG, which is done if you're having seizures. Small patches, called electrodes, are put on your scalp, and they're connected to a machine by wires. The machine records the electrical activity in your brain.
  • An electromyogram, or EMG, is a test of the communication between a nerve and the muscle it works with. This is done with electrodes on your skin or a needle put into a muscle.
  • A series of tests called evoked potentials to measure your brain's response to stimulation of your hearing, vision, and certain nerves. These are similar to an EEG, except your doctor will make sounds or flashlights to see how your brain responds.
  • A small amount of fluid is taken from your spine to look for blood or infection. This is called a spinal tap or lumbar puncture.
  • A muscle or nerve biopsy to look for signs of certain neuromuscular disorders. A small amount of tissue is taken and looked at under a microscope.
  • A Tensilon test can help diagnose myasthenia gravis, a condition that weakens your muscles. Your doctor gives you a medicine called edrophonium (Tensilon) to see if it strengthens certain muscles and relieves your weakness temporarily.


To prepare for your consultation:

  • Write down your symptoms and keep track of anything that seems to trigger them. Take note of how long your symptoms last, if any new ones develop, and all other changes that might be relevant.
  • Bring along your other health information including medications, allergies, previous illnesses, and your family's history of disease.
  • Make a list of questions you have.
  • Have your previous test results sent to the neurologist, or take them with you.
  • Bring a friend or family member to make sure you don't miss anything.
  • Ask about a follow-up appointment so that you know when you'll next see the doctor and can be prepared.

The neurologist will probably give you a lot of information, so you may want to take notes. Don't be afraid to ask questions if you're confused about something. Make sure you understand your diagnosis and treatment and any further steps you need to take.

A neurologist is a doctor who treats and diagnoses conditions in the brain and nervous system. Your regular doctor may recommend that you see a neurologist if you have migraines or headaches, dizziness, vertigo, seizures, or other issues. Neurologists may check your mental status, speech, coordination, and reflexes. Preparing for a visit to the neurologist is much like preparing for a visit to any doctor. You should come prepared with a list of questions and notes on your symptoms.

  • Should I see a neurologist for depression?

Neurologists don't treat mental health. Seek out treatment from a mental health specialist, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, for your depression.

  • How does a neurologist treat nerve damage?

Your neurologist may do an electrodiagnostic test to measure the electrical activity of your nerves and muscles. This test can help your doctor know how bad the nerve damage is and what may have caused it. Once they've determined what kind of damage there is, they may prescribe medications to help with the pain or recommend physical therapy or surgery.

  • What is the role of a neurologist in a stroke?

A neurologist may be part of your care team if you've had a stroke. After a stroke, a neurologist can help you on your path to recovery by helping you regain function. They can also watch for any symptoms that may have stuck around and help you with those.