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What is Neurology?

Doctors and Medical Specialties

Neurology is the medical specialty that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of nervous system disorders, specifically, the central, peripheral, and autonomic nervous system. Neurologists work with primary care physicians to treat conditions such as epilepsy, brain injuries, sleep disorders, migraine headaches, cerebral palsy, encephalitis, meningitis, brain and spinal cord tumors, Parkinson's disease, comas, and speech and language disorders (to name just a few). Symptoms of neurological diseases are almost limitless since the nervous system controls behavior and sensation. The list is long and can include poor memory, headaches, seizures, language disorders, loss of coordination, and more.

To enter the field of neurology, a medical doctor or osteopath must complete medical school and four years of residency.

Additional training is optional for various neurology subspecialties:

  • Sleep medicine is the study and treatment of sleep disturbances.
  • Vascular neurology deals with vascular diseases of the nervous system.
  • Pain medicine treats chronic pain and cancer pain.
  • Neuromuscular medicine manages problems with the nerves and muscles.
  • Neurodevelopmental disability physicians work with patients who have cerebral palsy, behavioral syndromes, mental retardation, and neurological problems.
  • Vascular neurology physicians study and treat diseases of the nervous system.
  • Hospice and palliative neurologists aim to prevent and treat pain in patients with serious illnesses.
  • Clinical neurophysiologists are neurologists who treat illnesses related to the central, peripheral, and autonomic nervous system.
  • Neurosurgeons, rather than neurologists, operate on patients who require surgical procedures to treat symptoms.

Neurologists do perform:

  • Examinations of the nerves of the head and neck
  • Muscle strength, balance, ambulation, reflex, and movement tests
  • Tests of memory, language, speech, and sensation
  • CAT scans
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • EMG/NCV (electromyography and nerve conduction velocity)
  • EEG Spinal tap

Neurology often overlaps other fields, like psychiatry. Many diseases, such as post-stroke depression, Parkinson's dementia, and mood dysfunction in Alzheimer's patients are both psychiatric and neurological in nature. The sub-specialty of neuropsychology applies management and rehabilitation to problems that stem from illness or injury to the brain.

Neurological patients are often referred by primary caregivers. To ensure quality care, get references and ask questions. Is he/she currently licensed and Board Certified? What is the neurologist's specialty? Will medical insurance cover the office visit and treatment? Is the patient comfortable giving medical details to this doctor? Look for a neurology doctor who has a good bedside manner. A good rapport is key when seeking a positive and effective doctor-patient relationship.

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