What is a Neurologist?
Introduction to Neurology
Neurology is the branch of medicine concerned with the study and treatment of disorders of the nervous system. The nervous system is a complex, sophisticated system that regulates and coordinates body activities. It has two major divisions:
- Central nervous system: the brain and spinal cord
- Peripheral nervous system: all other neural elements, such as eyes, ears, skin, and other “sensory receptors”
A doctor who specializes in neurology is called a neurologist. The neurologist treats disorders that affect the brain, spinal cord, and nerves, such as:
- Cerebrovascular disease, such as stroke
- Demyelinating diseases of the central nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis
- Headache disorders
- Infections of the brain and peripheral nervous system
- Movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease
- Neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease)
- Seizure disorders, such as epilepsy
- Spinal cord disorders
- Speech and language disorders
Neurologists do not perform surgery. If one of their patients requires surgery, they refer them to a neurosurgeon.
Education to Become a Neurologist in the United States
- Four years of pre-medical education in a college or university
- Four years of medical school resulting in an M.D. or D.O. degree (doctor of medicine or doctor of osteopathy degree)
- One year internship in either internal medicine or medicine/surgery
- At least 3 years of specialty training in an accredited neurology residency program
Many neurologists also have additional training or interest in one area of neurology, such as stroke, epilepsy, neuromuscular, sleep medicine, pain management, or movement disorders.
What is neurology?
Neurology is the branch of medicine that deals with disorders of the nervous system, which include the brain, blood vessels, muscles and nerves. The main areas of neurology are: the autonomic, central and peripheral nervous systems. A physician who works in the field of neurology is called a neurologist; a neurosurgeon treats neurological disorders via surgery.
After 8 years of medical school, neurologists must complete postgraduate residency for 3 to 4 years. After completion of residency, some neurologists may continue on with fellowships in other areas of neurology. These may include behavioral neurology, clinical neurophysiology, epilepsy, interventional neurology or pain management.
Neurological disorders often differ between infants and young children and adults. Neurological problems in those younger than 18 years are managed by pediatric neurologists. Disorders that affect the pediatric population include: cerebral palsy, complex metabolic diseases, epilepsy, learning disabilities, and nerve and muscle diseases.
After 4 years of medical school, pediatric neurologists complete 5-year post-graduate training comprised of 2 of pediatric training, 1 year in general neurology and 2 years in pediatric neurology.
Diagnosis and treatment
A neurologist is trained to diagnose and treat neurological disorders. Neurologists must first determine if a problem exists in the nervous system. The patient’s health history is reviewed followed by a neurological exam which assesses the function of cranial nerves, coordination, mental status, sensation, strength and reflexes.
Once a diagnosis is developed, more tests may be warranted to guide treatment. Diagnosis is carried out by tests such as the computed axial tomography scan, magnetic resonance imaging, electroencephalography or electromyography.
Neurological disorders are comprised of brain cancer, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord disorders, diseases that affect the muscles and peripheral nerves and neuromuscular junctions.
One major clinical division of neurology is neuro-oncology, which consists of the management of patients with primary brain tumors, metastases and the neurologic complications of cancer.
Connection to other branches of medicine
Neurology is linked to psychiatry and oncology.
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