What Is a Neurologist?
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.
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, like movement disorders or pain management.
What Does a Neurologist Treat?
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
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson's disease
- Peripheral neuropathy (a disease that affects your nerves)
- Pinched nerves
- Tremors (uncontrollable movements)
Since 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 subset of neurology after they finish their residency training.
A specialist might focus their training on:
Neurological Exam and Procedures
When you see the 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
- 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. This 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.
- A test of the communication between a nerve and the muscle it works with called an electromyogram, or EMG. 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 flash lights 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.
Prepare for Your Neurologist Visit
It helps to prepare for your consultation:
- Write down your symptoms and other health information, including medications, allergies, previous illnesses, and your family's history of disease.
- Make a list of your questions.
- 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.
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.