What Is a Neurologist?

By Kent Ninomiya

A neurologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the study, diagnosis and treatment of injury and diseases of the nervous system. This includes the brain, spinal cord, muscles and nerves throughout the body. Since the nervous system is essential to every bodily function, neurology is a vast area of study. Neurologists usually specialize in just few aspects of neurology.


A neurologist helps identify the source of problems with a patient's nervous system. This can be an inability to use the senses correctly. Loss of sight, hearing, smell, taste and the sensation of touch are often linked to neurological disorders. The inability to perform normal motor functions are also symptoms of problems with the nervous system. Neurologists examine issues with balance, reflexes and muscle strength. They also try to identify the source of disorders of the brain such as loss of memory, speech and abstract thought.


Neurologists study many types of disorders. These include difficulty functioning following a traumatic brain or spinal cord injury, sleep disorders and chronic pain due to conditions like migraines. They also focus on neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, epilepsy and cerebral palsy. Brain surgeons are neurologists who perform procedures to remove brain tumors, spinal cord lesions and repair nerves.


Neurologists consider many tests on patients in order to make a diagnosis and recommend an appropriate treatment. These tests include scans like a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed axial tomography (CAT scan). Neurologists also perform lumbar punctures (spinal taps) to examine the cerebrospinal fluid that coats the brain and spinal cord. Electrical activity is studied with an electroencephalography (EEG) of the brain or an electromyography (EMG) of the muscles.


There is a significant amount of training required to become a board certified neurologist. They must complete four years of undergraduate college education, four years of medical school, a one year internship and three years as a neurology resident. This is 12 years of higher education before they can start practicing neurology. Once this is complete, neurologists focus on a sub specialty of neurology by engaging in fellowship programs to gain experience.


Neurologists sometimes work with psychiatrists to solve neurological problems, devise solutions and prevent future problems. Neurology examines the physical functioning of the nervous system while psychiatry focuses on behavior. Many neurologists belong to the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). The organization helps the two fields of study work together. The ABPN offers additional certification in sub specialties such as child psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry and addiction psychiatry.

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