What Conditions Do Neurologists Treat?
A medical doctor who specializes in disorders that impact the central or peripheral nervous system is called a neurologist. Neurologists are specialists in the treatment and diagnosis of disorders involving the brain, spinal cord, and the nerves that connect them.
They use diagnostic tools such as brain scans, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to pinpoint the exact locations that are disrupting normal processing in the nervous system and causing issues. They are then able to diagnose and apply an appropriate treatment to a patient suffering from a neurological disorder.
There are several symptoms that might trigger a referral to one of these experts in the field of neurology. Symptoms might include muscle weakness, loss of coordination, confusion, dizziness, uncontrollable headaches, or issues with the senses. Loss of vision, smell, or touch can all be caused by neurological issues.
Some of the most common conditions treated by neurologists are:
Headaches are a very common neurological disorder that most people encounter on occasion. While the majority of time headaches do not indicate a bigger problem, headaches that become more frequent and do not resolve in the typical amount of time can be a sign that you need to see a neurologist to investigate any serious underlying factors.
There are a few different types of headaches, such as migraines and tension headaches, and each can be triggered by different events. Headaches are commonly caused by dehydration, not eating enough, illness, eye strain, sinus problems, and stress. A few concerning causes of headaches include high blood pressure, infection, bleeding in the brain, inflammation of the blood vessels in the brain, and brain tumors.
You should see a neurologist if your headaches occur more than once or twice a week, become disabling, require more than the normal dose of pain reliever, or if the headache pattern changes. If your headache is accompanied by confusion, fever, numbness, sudden vomiting, difficulty speaking, or double vision you should seek immediate medical attention.
Treatment will depend on the cause and type of headache. Your physician may prescribe medication to control the pain and use diagnostic tools to diagnose and treat the underlying cause.
Strokes occur when a blood vessel supplying oxygen to the brain becomes blocked by a clot or bursts. The brain requires the oxygen that travels in the blood to survive and brain cells begin to die when the flow of blood is interrupted. Strokes caused by a blockage are called ischemic, and those caused by a rupture and bleeding into the brain are called hemorrhagic.
Symptoms include dizziness, numbness in the face, numbness in arm or leg on one side of the body, confusion, difficulty speaking, loss of vision, loss of balance, and sudden or severe headache.
Treatment is determined by the severity, type, and location as well as your medical history. Emergency treatment includes medications to dissolve clots, stop brain swelling, and protect the brain from damage. Stroke prevention treatment includes medications to prevent blood clots from forming as well as treatment of conditions that cause strokes. Doctors may also recommend a variety of surgical treatments to treat and prevent occurrence.
Parkinson’s disease is a neurological condition that causes shakiness, stiffness, and problems with walking, balance, and coordination. This disease usually occurs in people around 60 years old, though some may experience early onset at a younger age. It is a progressive condition that gradually impairs the ability to speak or walk, and can cause changes in behavior, sleep disturbance, memory issues, and fatigue. It is caused by an impairment in the nerve cells that control movement.
Symptoms include shaking in a limb, slowed movement, stiff muscles, balance problems, decline in ability to blink, smile or swing your arms when you walk, and speech and writing changes.
There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but symptoms can be controlled with medication. Your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes such as increased exercise or physical therapy to improve balance problems. In some instances, doctors may recommend a procedure called deep brain stimulation. That involves inserting electrodes in your brain and sending electric impulses to control symptoms.
The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disorder that impacts memory, mental function, and behavior. The majority of Alzheimer’s patients are over 65, but some experience an early onset. People with this disease will eventually lose the ability to perform simple daily tasks and may no longer recognize family members. A comprehensive support team can greatly improve their quality of life.
The first noticeable symptom is usually a problem with memory. Patients may also notice a declining ability to find words or may have spatial and vision issues or impaired judgment.
Treatment includes medication to regulate neurotransmitters as well as medication to control behavior. Many Alzheimer’s patients live in facilities where they can receive around the clock care to ensure their safety and comfort. There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, but researchers are working on ways to prevent and treat this condition.
Neurologists also treat seizure disorders. The most common cause of seizures is epilepsy, which is a disorder of the central nervous system. This disorder results in abnormal brain activity that causes seizures or loss of awareness. The severity of the seizures ranges from staring blankly to severe twitching and jerking of the body. This disorder may continue throughout a person’s lifetime, or it may simply go away on its own and no longer require treatment.
Symptoms include sudden uncontrollable jerking of the body, loss of awareness, strange sensations, and staring spells.
Medication is an effective treatment for preventing seizures in most cases. Others may opt to have surgery to remove the part of the brain that is responsible for the seizures. Some are able to prevent seizures by following ketogenic diet or using an alternative therapy like deep brain stimulation.
Motor Neuron Diseases
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is the most common type of motor neuron disease. This condition impacts the nerves in the brain and spinal cord that are responsible for controlling muscle movement. It is a progressive disease that begins with twitching and weakness in the muscles and progresses to an inability to control any muscles in the body. Eventually, ALS patients will no longer be able to move or breathe on their own.
Symptoms of ALS include weakness in limbs, tripping, slurred speech, muscle cramps, cognitive changes, and changes in behavior.
Though there is no cure for ALS, there are treatments to alleviate symptoms and make the patient more comfortable. This includes medications, physical therapy, speech therapy, noninvasive ventilation to improve breathing function, and nutrition plans to reduce weight loss and lessen the likelihood of choking.
It can be scary to suspect you may have a neurological disorder, but the best course of action is to seek an expert medical opinion. The outlook for patients with many disorders is improved with early diagnosis and intervention. Neurologists have advanced diagnostic tools available to make accurate diagnoses and develop effective treatment plans.
In recent years, there have been calls within the medical profession to erase the distinctions between neurological and psychiatric disorders.
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