Neurology, the study of nerves, is a specialty within medicine. A neurologist is a physician, either a medical doctor (MD) or a doctor of osteopathy (DO), who is trained specifically in neurology and in treating the human nervous system—the central, peripheral, and autonomic nervous systems—and the blood vessels that supply them. The central nervous system includes the brain and spinal cord, while the peripheral nervous system includes the sensory and motor nerves that supply the body. The autonomic nervous system, however, has many endocrine or metabolic functions and an endocrinologist usually treats these dysfunctions. Neurology has many subspecialties including child or pediatric neurology, epileptology (the study of seizures and epilepsy), neurosurgery, movement disorders, and psychiatry (the study of mental disorders), to name a few. To become a neurologist, the physician needs to complete a residency in neurology and may need to complete a few fellowships if he or she is pursuing a subspecialty.
In general, patients will be referred to a neurologist from their primary care provider or other physicians. A neurologist will start by taking a medical history of the patient and then perform specific neurological tests to determine the person’s balance, cognition (thinking and memory ability), cranial nerve functions, gait (ability to coordinate movements like walking), muscle strength, reflexes, and sensory functions (like touch, temperature, and pressure). Additional tests can be used to evaluate the health of the nervous system such as computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and ultrasound imaging techniques (that can be used to view blood vessels to determine the location of an intercranial aneurysm). A neurophysiology test can also be performed to see brain activity (electroencephalography, EEG) and muscle and evoked potentials activity (electromyography, EMG). Finally, to determine the health of the cerebrospinal fluid, neurologists can perform a lumbar puncture. Results from the aforementioned tests can help diagnose patients with several different neurological diseases such as dementia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, seizures, and stroke, to name a few.
Jennifer L. Hellier
See also: Autonomic Nervous System; Central Nervous System; Meniere’s Disease; Neurological Examination; Peripheral Nervous System; Sacks, Oliver Wolf; Seizures; Society for Neuroscience
Association of American Medical Colleges. (2013). Careers in medicine: Neurology. Retrieved from https://www.aamc.org/cim/specialty/list/us/336846/neurology.html
Kandel, Eric R., James H. Schwartz, Thomas M. Jessell, Steven A. Siegelbaum, & A. J. Hudspeth (Eds.). (2012). Principles of neural science (5th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.