Neurology is a branch of medicine that deals with the study and treatment of nervous system disorders. Knowing the symptoms of common neurological disorders can often lead to early diagnosis and treatment.
Neurology is a specific branch of medicine. It involves the study and treatment of disorders that affect the nervous system.
Perhaps you have noticed a neurology department at your hospital. Or, maybe your doctor referred you to a neurologist. Either way, it helps to know what neurology is, along with signs that indicate it’s time to see a doctor who practices this type of medicine.
Here’s what you need to know about neurology and how to contact Lompoc Valley Medical Center if you need treatment for a nervous system condition.
What Is Neurology?
Neurology deals with any condition that affects your nerves and/or your nervous system.
The nervous system works as your body’s command center. It controls and guides nearly everything you think, do, say, or feel. For instance, it plays important roles in your memory, movements, communication, and the five senses.
Your nervous system is divided into two major parts: the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system controls the brain and spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system controls sensory receptors such as your ears, eyes, and skin.
A neurology department would handle the diagnosis and treatment of any disorder that affects the nervous system. According to a 2020 study in JAMA Neurology, the three most burdensome nervous system disorders in the U.S. are stroke, dementia, and migraine.
What Is a Neurologist?
A neurologist is a doctor who specializes in neurology. Your general physician may refer you to a neurologist if they think you have a related condition. These specialists are trained to evaluate, diagnose, and treat diseases that affect the nervous system.
Doctors must complete four years of medical school, a four-year residency, and at least another three years of school to specialize in neurology. A neurosurgeon is a doctor who performs surgery on the brain and spine. These specialists require additional training to learn how to do surgical procedures.
Neurologists can choose to specialize in certain fields within neurology. These are known as subspecialties. Headache medicine, sleep medicine, and movement disorders are examples of subspecialties in neurology.
What Diseases and Conditions Fall Under Neurology?
Nearly any disease or condition that affects the brain, spinal cord, and nerves can be treated by a neurologist. Some of the most common conditions that fall under neurology include:
- Dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease
- Epilepsy and seizures
- Headache and migraine
- Movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease
- Peripheral neuropathy (damage to peripheral nerves located outside of the brain and spinal cord)
- Brain tumors
- Brain aneurysms
- Cerebral palsy
- Sleep disorders, such as insomnia
- Neuromuscular disorders, such as muscular dystrophy
- Multiple sclerosis
- Infections of the nervous system, such as HIV and meningitis
- Spinal cord disorders
- Speech and language disorders
How Are Neurological Conditions Diagnosed?
A neurologist will ask you many of the same questions as a general doctor when trying to diagnose your condition. For instance, they may ask you about your personal and family medical history. They may talk to you about any medications or herbs you are taking. They may also ask about your symptoms to learn more about your condition.
Your doctor may run a series of diagnostic tests to evaluate your balance, coordination, and reflexes. For example, a neurologist may simply ask you to walk around the exam room. This allows them to look at your posture, balance, and gait.
Your muscle strength, vision, hearing, and speech may also be evaluated during a neurology appointment. In some instances, you may be screened for mental health issues. Mental health issues such as dementia can often be caused by problems with the nervous system. Some neurologists may ask whether you urinate frequently or have regular bowel movements. These behaviors can usually offer insight into how well your nervous system is working.
What Types Of Procedures Do Neurologists Perform?
Lumbar puncture, electroencephalogram (EEG), and electromyography (EMG) are some of the many unique procedures your doctor may do to diagnose your condition.
A lumbar puncture is also known as a spinal tap. During this procedure, your doctor will insert a long needle into the spinal canal in your lower back. Then, they will draw a sample of spinal fluid for testing. A lumbar puncture may be used to diagnose multiple sclerosis, dementia, and meningitis.
An EEG is a test that records your brain activity. During this test, a doctor will attach a series of small sensors to your scalp. These sensors pick up and record electrical signals coming from your brain, which are then reviewed by the doctor. An EEG may be used to diagnose brain tumors, epilepsy, and seizures.
An EMG records the electrical activity in your muscles. During an EMG, your doctor will insert a series of small needles—called electrodes—into your muscles. The electrodes will record the electrical activity in your muscles while they are moving and at rest. A doctor may use an EMG to diagnose a neuromuscular condition. It is commonly used to diagnose amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gherig’s disease.
A Tensilon test is another procedure commonly performed by neurologists. This test is usually used to diagnose a condition called myasthenia gravis. It is the weakness and rapid fatigue of muscles you can normally control. For example, this condition may cause you to have a droopy eyelid or mouth. During a Tensilon test, a doctor will inject medication into the bloodstream. This medication, called Tensilon, allows them to test and evaluate muscle strength in certain parts of the body.
Neurologists may also diagnose conditions using other common procedures. Biopsy, ultrasound, and MRI are other tests a doctor may use to diagnose and evaluate certain conditions.
How Are Neurological Conditions Treated?
Treatments for nervous system conditions will vary based on the condition itself and/or its underlying cause. Your doctor may work with you to reduce your symptoms or to delay the progression of the disease. For example, if you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, your doctor may help you develop an exercise routine and stop smoking. Both of these behaviors may help slow its progression.
In some instances, your nervous system condition may require treatment from several doctors or specialists. For example, stroke treatment may also involve a speech therapist, physical therapist, and/or occupational therapist.
Every neurological condition can be treated in a variety of ways, based on its severity and symptoms. Your doctor can discuss all your available treatment options and help you choose a treatment that works best for you.
Signs You May Need To See a Neurologist
Your general physician may suggest seeing a neurologist if your symptoms indicate a possible nervous system disorder. Signs and symptoms that indicate you may need to see a neurologist include:
- Frequent or severe headaches or migraines
- Pain in the neck or back
- Changes that affect how things taste or smell
- Vision problems, such as blurred vision
- Ringing in the ears and other hearing problems
- Difficulty swallowing or controlling the tongue
- Memory problems, such as forgetfulness
- Loss of coordination
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle cramps
- Muscle spasms or twitching
- Loss of consciousness
- Partial or complete paralysis
- Facial asymmetries, such as one drooping eyelid
- Burning sensation or electrical shock-like pain in any body part
- Numbness and tingling sensations
- Slowness in movement
Make an appointment with your doctor if you are experiencing one or more of the above symptoms. Your doctor can talk to you in greater detail about your symptoms and refer you to a neurologist.
How To Prepare For Your Neurology Appointment
It helps to be fully prepared for your first appointment with a neurologist. The more information you can provide, the faster and more accurately the doctor may be able to diagnose and treat your condition.
Here are steps you can take to prepare for your neurology appointment:
- Be prepared to talk about your personal and family medical history. Find out whether any of your family members have ever had a nervous system disorder, such as dementia.
- Keep track of all the symptoms you’ve been having.
- Bring a list of all medications you are taking, as well as vitamins, herbs, and nutritional supplements.
- Consider starting a journal during the weeks and days leading up to your appointment. In the journal, record when you experience certain symptoms and how long they last. You may also want to write down their triggers and what you did to make them stop.
- Be prepared to talk about your lifestyle, such as your diet, physical activity level, sleeping habits, etc.
- Bring copies of any test or lab results given to you by other doctors you are seeing.
- Bring a list of known allergies.
- Consider bringing your partner with you to your appointment or a family member with whom you spend the most time. These people may be able to provide more insight that helps the doctor arrive at a diagnosis.