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Neurology is the medical specialty that diagnoses and treats diseases and conditions of the brain, spinal cord and nervous system. It is a very diverse specialty, and it has been growing more rapidly in recent years due to advances in diagnosis and treatment for disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
A neurologist has at least 4 years of college and medical school, and then at least 1 year of general internal medicine or pediatrics residency, followed by 3 years of specialized neurology training. Many neurologists also spend time learning about a specific subspecialty, such as movement disorders or pain management.
Your neurologist will examine your health, order tests, make a diagnosis, and recommend treatment or refer you to other specialists if needed. They’ll help you manage your condition, so you can live as normal a life as possible.
The types of conditions that a neurologist treats depend on your age, gender and lifestyle, but common neurological problems include headaches, seizures, epilepsy, brain tumors, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and neuromuscular diseases. A neurologist may also treat brain and spinal cord injuries, tremors and sleep disorders.
Injuries to the head or spine often cause a variety of symptoms, including numbness and weakness in the arms, legs and hands; a loss of balance; and difficulty moving, speaking, or seeing. A neurologist can treat these injuries with medications, physical therapy or surgery.
Your first visit to a neurologist involves an exam that checks your muscle strength, coordination and sensory ability. You’ll also be asked questions about your health and your family history of disease. If you have other symptoms, such as a loss of vision or hearing, a neurologist may also do a test to see if these issues are part of your neurological problem.
During this examination, your neurologist will ask you to perform a variety of movements to check how your muscles react to electrical stimulation. A neurologist-technician will insert small electrodes into your muscles to record activity during periods of movement and rest. He or she will also administer a test called electromyography (EMG) to measure muscle contractions. A neurologist-technician can also conduct nerve conduction studies (NCV) to measure the speed of your nerves’ conduction, which is the way they send signals to control your muscle movement.
Other tests that a neurologist may use to diagnose a neurological problem are x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans. These scans can show if you have a stroke, brain tumor or other condition affecting the brain or spinal cord. They can also detect blockages or narrowing in the blood vessels that carry oxygen to the brain and other parts of the body.
For a neurologist to diagnose and treat you, they must have an understanding of the different systems of your brain and central nervous system, as well as your peripheral nerves. This includes the spinal cord and its branches.
A neurologist’s role is to identify, prevent and treat diseases of the brain and nervous system, using medicines, therapy or surgery to restore function or relieve symptoms. It is a challenging and rewarding profession for doctors who like complex problems.