There are some doctors who treat whatever ails you, and others who specialize in specific areas of practice. Neurologists fall into the second category, and spend their professional lives treating problems of the brain and nervous system. These specialists deal with a variety of cases because malfunctions in the nervous system can result in a wide range of symptoms and conditions. Neurologists' duties vary as widely as the conditions they treat.
Almost any condition that affects the nervous system, or results form a problem with the nervous system, is part of the neurologist's scope of practice. This includes concussions and other injuries, strokes, epilepsy, migraines, and long-term chronic conditions such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease. Some conditions affect the patient's ability to think or reason clearly, while others influence mood and behavior. Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis and some other conditions limit the patient's mobility and quality of life. Neurologists treat these conditions through a variety of non-surgical means.
Most patients see a neurologist after a referral from a personal doctor. The neurologist can review a patient's symptoms, order appropriate tests if necessary, and diagnose a neurological condition if one exists. Depending on the condition, the neurologist can either treat the patient directly or provide the patient's regular doctor with a treatment plan. The neurologist might also become a patient's main personal doctor if the patient has a chronic condition such as MS. A number of tests that can help neurologists diagnose and monitor the patient's condition, from traditional EEGs and "evoked potential" tests to high-tech MRI and CT scan imaging.
Neurologists can use a variety of techniques to treat the patient's condition or to provide relief from symptoms. For example, many conditions are caused by inflammation in an area such as the spine or wrist, where there are lots of nerves. Those can be treated with steroids or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that reduce the inflammation and relieve the patient's symptoms. Strokes can be avoided with anticoagulant drugs, which dissolve or prevent blood clots. Physical therapy can help some patients with musculoskeletal conditions, and drugs can reduce or eliminate epilepsy and other seizure-related conditions. Neurologists don't perform surgery, but can refer patients to a neurosurgeon if necessary.
The neurological field contains a number of sub-specialties. For example, pediatric neurologists specialize in treating childrens' disorders and neuromuscular conditions. Some neurologists specialize in pain management, or critical-care neurology. Interventional neurology is an emerging specialty, providing a middle ground between the traditional roles of neurologists and neurosurgeons. They perform minimally invasive procedures by inserting a tube called a catheter into a major blood vessel and then sliding miniature instruments through the catheter to perform repairs. Interventional neurologists can cauterize damaged blood vessels, or repair them by inserting wire-mesh stents to provide reinforcement. Patients recover from these procedures more quickly than from traditional open surgery.
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.