Neurology is the area of medicine that works with the nervous system and helps the diagnosis, treatment and management of neurological conditions. There are many reasons you may need to see a neurologist.
In this post, you will learn what neurology is (and what it’s not), who is a neurologist, why you may need to see a neurologist, what happens at a neurologist visit and how they may treat you.
What is Neurology?
Neurology itself means the study of the neuron. “Neuro” comes from “neuron” and “logy” comes from “logia” which means “the study of” in Latin. It is a branch of medical science related to nervous system disorders and diseases.
Your brain has a hundred billion neurons that generate and receives impulses. Neurology studies the central nervous system, the peripheral nervous system and automatic nervous system. It is involved with a wide range of structural and functional disorders of the nervous system, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, migraines, headaches, sleep disorders, brain tumors, tremors, brain and spinal cord injuries, and more.
The Difference Between Neurology and Neuroscience
Neuroscience is a scientific study of the mechanics of the central nervous system such as structure, function, physiology and genetics. It aims to understand diseases of the nervous system. They conduct studies, including research using animals such as rats and mice to expand the scientific understanding.
Neurology is an area of medicine, not scientific research, and focuses on disorders and diseases of the nervous system, including diagnosis, treatment and management. The goal of neuroscience is to understand the nervous system and its disorders better, whereas the goal of neurology is to help patients live a better quality of life with nervous system disorders.
The Difference Between Neurology and Psychiatry
Although there is an overlap between neurology and psychiatry, they are not the same and there are distinct boundaries between the two medical specialties.
A neurologist relies on the field of neuroscience to diagnosis and treat patients with neurological disorders. Psychiatry, on the other hand, is a medical specialty related to the mental disorders, including diagnosis, treatment and prevention. They are involved with health issues related to mood, cognition, perception and behavior.
Mental disorders may be endogenous disorders that are not attributable to external or environmental factors or exogenous (organic) disorders. Disorders, for example, that involve mental reactions, states and development of organic brain damage and affect the function of the central nervous system.
The main focus of psychiatry and other mental health professions such as clinical psychology is endogenous disorders, whereas neurology mainly focuses on exogenous disorders. Many mental disorders are a combination of endogenous and exogenous factors and some patients with mental illness may have an underlying neurological disorder creating an overlap between the two specialties of medicine
Psychiatrists also work with patients with neuropsychiatric illnesses that are associated with nervous system injuries, biochemical, anatomical or electrical malfunction, disease pathology or underdevelopment, such as Autism, Tourette’s syndrome and some cases of obsessive-compulsive disorder. They may also see patients with neurobehavioral symptoms that are associated with degenerative nervous system disorders, such as Alzheimer’s, MS or Parkinson’s. Neuropsychiatry deals with mental disorders related to specific identified diseases of the nervous system.
In some cases neurologists and psychiatrist work as a team with the same patient to address different areas and symptom of the disorder.
What Is a Neurologist?
A neurologist is a medical doctor specialized in neurology and treating diseases of the nervous system. Their training involves going to medical school, an internship and three years of residency in neurology.
What Does a Neurologist Do? And Why to See One?
Neurologists diagnose, treat and manage neurological conditions, problems, diseases and disorders of the nervous system.
People may visit a neurologist with the following symptoms:
- Coordination problems
- Muscle weakness
- Change in sensation
- Problems with senses (touch, smell, or vision)
Neurologists patients may have several other conditions, including the following:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Seizure disorders
- Neuromuscular disorders
- Neurodegenerative disorders
- Infections of the nervous system
- Headaches and migraines
Neurologists often specialize in a specific area of the nervous system. Some sub-specialties include:
- Neurocritical care
- Geriatric neurology
- Autonomic disorders
- Vascular (stroke care)
- Child neurology
- Intervention neuroradiology
Typical Neurological Procedures
You may wonder what happens at an appointment with a neurologist. There is nothing to worry about.
At your first appointment, your doctor will likely perform a physical and neurological exam, including testing your reflexes, coordination, and muscles. They may recommend further tests.
Other tests your neurologist may recommend:
- Lumbar puncture to test your spinal fluid by inserting a needle into your spine and taking a sample of spinal fluid. Your spine is numbed for the procedure, of course.
- Tensilon test to help diagnose myasthenia gravis by injecting a medicine (Tensilon) and observing your muscle movements after.
- Electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure electrical activity in your brain through electrodes attached to your scalp.
- Imaging tests such as CT, MRI or PET scan to check for abnormalities
- Angiography to determine blockages in the blood vessels in your brain
- Sleep studies to measure your sleep patterns and look for sleep disorders
Managing Neurological Conditions
Doctors often work in a team as needed. You neurologist may help to treat your condition or manage your symptoms alone, or they may work with your primary care physician or other specialists to provide the best comprehensive treatment necessary. Treatment of neurological conditions may involve medication, pain management, lifestyle changes, physical therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, in- and outpatient treatment programs and more.