A neurologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis, treatment
and management of illnesses that affect the brain, spine, muscles and the nervous system.
Neurologists examine patients who have been referred to them by other
physicians. There are many tests they can perform to diagnose a patient's
illness. Depending on the symptoms, they may physically examine the nerves of
the head and neck, or test the patient's balance, reflexes, muscle strength, and
range of movement. They may also test the patient's cognitive abilities,
including memory, speech, and sensation.
In order to get more information, neurologists often have images made of
parts of the nervous system through computed axial tomography (CAT) scans
or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). With these images they can usually diagnose
the problem and prescribe a treatment plan.
Treatments vary depending on the neurological problem. They can include
everything from referring the patient to a physiotherapist, to
prescribing drugs, to recommending a surgical procedure.
Some neurologists specialize in certain parts of the nervous system or in
specific procedures. For example, neurosurgeons specialize in surgical
procedures related to the nervous system, such as the removal of brain tumors.
There are also many non-medical doctors, those with PhDs in subjects such as
biology and chemistry, who study and research the nervous system. Working in
labs in universities, hospitals, and private companies, these neuroscientists
perform clinical and laboratory experiments and tests in order to learn more
about the nervous system and find cures or new treatments for diseases and
There is a great deal of overlap between neuroscience and neurology. A large number of
neurologists work in academic training hospitals, where they conduct research as
neuroscientists in addition to treating patients and teaching neurology to medical
Medical conditions that are treated by neurologists include:
and the rehabilitation of side effects resulting from stroke
A neurologist completes at least three years of specialized neurological
training after graduating from medical school and completing a medical
internship. Many neurologists complete additional training in neurology
subspecialties, such as stroke, epilepsy, neuromuscular disease, and movement
The United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties recognizes 8 neurology
Behavioral Neurology or Neuropsychiatry
Clinical Neuromuscular Pathology
Other areas in which neurologists may specialize include chronic pain, sleep
What Do Neurologists Do?
Neurologists diagnose complex neurological diseases by obtaining a detailed
health history of the patient, and performing a detailed neurological exam to
assess a person's mental status, vision, strength, coordination, reflexes, and
Additional diagnostic tests may be ordered and interpreted by the
neurologist. These include:
CT (Computerized Tomography of the head). The CT scan uses x-rays
and computers to create multi-dimensional images of selected body parts. Dye may
be injected into a patient's vein to obtain a clearer view.
(Electroencephalogram). The EEG records the brain's continuous electrical
activity through electrodes attached to the scalp. It is used to help diagnose
structural diseases of the brain and episodes such as seizures, fainting, or
blacking out. A neurologist may order this on patients who have had a
(EMG). An EMG measures and records electrical activity in the muscles and
nerves. This may be helpful in determining the cause of pain, numbness,
tingling, or weakness in the muscles or nerves. Small needles are inserted into
the muscle and mild electrical shocks are given to stimulate the nerve (nerve
conduction study). Discomfort may be associated with this test.
Evoked Potentials. This test records the brain's electrical
response to visual, auditory, and sensory stimulation. This test is useful in
evaluating and diagnosing symptoms if dizziness, numbness, and tingling, as well
as visual disorders. Discomfort may be associated with this test.
Lumbar Puncture (LP). During this test, the lower back is
numbed with local anesthesia and a thin needle is placed into the space that
contains the spinal fluid (CSF). A neurologist may recommend this test to check
for bleeding, hemorrhage, infection, or other disorder of the brain, spinal
cord. Discomfort may be associated with this test.
MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). An MRI uses magnetic fields and
radio waves to take images of the brain. It is a harmless test performed while a
patient is lying in a small chamber for about 30 minutes. It is painless, but
may be stressful for individuals with claustrophobia (fear of closed areas).
Neurosonography. This test uses ultra high frequency sound
waves to analyze blood flow and blockage in the blood vessels in or leading to
the brain. This test is painless.
Sleep Studies. These tests are used to diagnose specific
causes of sleep problems. To perform the tests, it is often necessary for a
patient to spend the night in a sleep laboratory. Brain wave activity, heart
rate, electrical activity of the heart, breathing, and oxygen in the blood are
all measured during the sleep test.
Transcranial Doppler (TCD). This test uses sound waves to
measure blood flow in the vessels of the brain. A microphone is placed on
different parts of the head to view the blood vessels. A neurologist may order
this on patients who have had a stroke or are at risk of developing a
Neurologists can recommend surgical treatment, but they do not perform
surgery. When surgical treatment of a medical condition is recommended, the
neurologist works closely with a neurosurgeon who performs the procedure.
Professional Organizations of Neurologists
Neurologists may belong to the American Academy of Neurology (AAN). The
American Academy of Neurology is an international professional association of
neurologists and neuroscience professionals dedicated to providing the best
possible care for patients with neurological disorders. Some members of the
Academy who have demonstrated special achievement in neuroscience may be called
"Academy Fellows". Academy Fellows may be designated by the "FAAN" suffix
following their name.
Other professional organizations in which neurologists may be members for
ongoing subspecialty education and research efforts include the American
Epilepsy Society, American Headache Society, and the Movement Disorder
This information is for general educational uses only. It may not apply
to you and your specific medical needs. This information should not be used in
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health care professional. Communicate promptly with your physician or other
health care professional with any health-related questions or concerns.
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