Neurologists: Doctors for Brain & Nervous System
Last updated on 19 August 2020
Who is a Neurologist?
Neurologists are doctors who specialise in brain and nervous system disorders. They do not perform surgery. But, if you require one, they’d refer you to a neurosurgeon, who’d be able to provide you with specialised care.
Table of Contents
- When to Visit?
- Educational Qualification
- Finding a good Neurologist
- Choosing the right Neurologist
What does a Neurologist do?
Let’s have a little glimpse into our nervous system to understand what doctors for brain and nervous system healthcare do.
The nervous system comprises the brain, spinal cord, neurons, and nerve fibres. They control your thought process, emotions, vision, speech, heartbeat, hunger and every other process that regulates your body.
A Neurologist treats diseases of the nervous system:
- Central Nervous System: The Central Nervous System comprises the brain and the spinal cord. The brain is the control centre of our bodies. They control everything we choose to do, like walk and talk. And the things our bodies do automatically — like heartbeats, digestion, breathing etc. They are also responsible for our senses — seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and our emotions, thoughts, and memories. That’s why any fatal injury to our CNS could result in death or, if we survived, loss of speech, vision, memory or movements (paralysis), depending on where you have been hit.
While the brain is located in the skull, the spinal cord runs down through your spine (backbone). The spinal cord helps connect the Central Nervous System with the Peripheral Nervous System.
- Peripheral Nervous System: The complex network of nerve fibres that branch out from the brain and spinal cords are called the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS). There are two types of PNS. They are
- Somatic Nervous System: It connects the Central Nervous System to the muscles. They are responsible for voluntary movements and reflexes. Think of it this way: when you touch a hot substance, your brain immediately signals to the muscles in your hand about the danger. As a result, you withdraw your hand quickly; this is how the Somatic Nervous System communicates with the Central Nervous System and helps us protect ourselves from injuries. The Somatic Nervous System is responsible for movement and reflexes.
- Autonomic Nervous System: It connects the Central Nervous System to muscles/tissues of the internal organs that humans have no control over — heart, lungs, kidneys, intestines, glands (thyroid, pituitary, adrenal etc.) necessary for our day to day functioning. The Autonomic Nervous System is responsible for digestion, breathing, blood pressure, heart rate and metabolism.
- Neurons: Neurons are the basic building blocks of our nervous system. Each neuron is connected to several other neurons forming a mesh-like network. The points at which one neuron connects with another is called the synaptic cleft or synapse. It is at this junction that the exchange of electrochemical signals takes place. Here, the electric signal is converted to a chemical signal, i.e., chemicals in the form of neurotransmitters are exchanged between neurons. This chemical signal is again converted to an electric signal in the next neuron, which then travels to your brain through a series of such electrochemical processes.
These neurons and neurotransmitters are the reason why you experience an emotion, thought, feelings or vision. If there were a disbalance of neurotransmitters, you’d experience mental health problems. For example, Dopamine (DA) is a neurotransmitter involved with motivation, decision-making, movement, reward processing, attention, working memory and learning. And its disbalance has been associated with depression, Parkinson’s disease, addiction, Schizophrenia and Huntington’s disease. Similarly, a disbalance of Serotonin is associated with anxiety, depression, aggression, Dementia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), panic attacks, social anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Your brain has more than a trillion such synaptic connections. Each time you experience an emotion or listen to good music, new synaptic connections or circuits are formed, allowing you to develop memories, emotions, and feelings. Isn’t that amazing?
How often should you see a Neurologist?
It’s time to see a Neurologist in case of the following diseases:
- Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease wherein your immune system attacks the neurons leading to its damage (nerve damage). Depending on the location of the affected nerve, you may experience symptoms such as tremors, weakness in muscles, partial or complete loss of vision, slurred speech, fatigue, tingling or pain in various parts of your body etc.
- Myasthenia Gravis is a long term neuromuscular disease leading to muscle weakness.
- Stroke occurs when a piece of blood clot or waxy substance (cholesterol) travels to your brain via the arteries, leading to blockage or brain damage. In such cases, the patient may experience symptoms such as loss of speech, paralysis to the face, arm, legs, or one side of the body or vision problems.
- Epilepsy is partly a genetic disorder. It’s also caused due to brain trauma, mass lesions in the brain or stroke where the nerve cells or its activity are constantly irritated. An epileptic person may exhibit unusual behaviour such as seizures or fits (involuntary movements of limbs). Symptoms also include loss of consciousness and awareness of their surroundings.
- Parkinson’s disease is a neurological movement disorder caused due to nerve damage (damage to neurons) in the part of the brain called the substantia nigra. This part of the brain is responsible for the production of dopamine (a type of neurotransmitter responsible for communication between the brain and muscles), leading to abnormalities in their levels. Symptoms of the disease include muscle weakness, stiffness, tremors in hands and feet, coordination problems etc. There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease.
What degrees do you need to be a Neurologist?
Neurology is the branch of medicine dealing with the study of diseases and functions of the nervous system. Neurologists in India have an MBBS degree and a postgraduate degree in Neurology.
How to find a good Neurologist?
To find a good Neurologist, speak to a family member or friend to refer you to a good Neurologist. You could also search online for doctors for brain and nervous system healthcare; Google does a great job of providing services closest to you, i.e., they’d connect you with a Neurologist near you. Usually, there are ratings and reviews online for the quality of services provided to help you decide what’s best for you.
How to choose a Neurologist?
Choosing the right Neurologist is one of the most important and personal decisions you would make. Here are seven crucial tips to help you choose the right Neurologist:
- Research. There are many Neurologists out there. Decide upon the one you would be comfortable with; someone with a good reputation, communication and soft skills.
- Get the proper referrals. Speak with your family member, a General Physician, colleagues, friends to help you connect with the right doctor.
- Check for licencing and credentials of the Neurologist.
- Consider the years of experience of the Neurologist.
- Consider the communication style of the Neurologist. Choose a doctor you would gel along with quickly. Developing a rapport helps in communicating efficiently with the Neurologist. If possible, read patient reviews to help you make the right decisions.
- It’s good to know if you would be covered under the insurance plan that you have.
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- Ask the doctor about your symptoms, problems, medications, and more during your consultation.
- You may have to submit your medical history and records if any, so the doctor can better understand your condition.
- Post teleconsultation, you could also follow up with your doctor online.
- Additionally, you can also buy medicines online and get lab tests done using the MFine app, all from the comfort of your home.
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What conditions does a Neurologist treat?
Following are some conditions treated by neurologists:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Myasthenia Gravis
What is nerve damage?
Nerve damage is any damage caused to neurons. Neurons are the basic building blocks of the nervous system. Neurons are made up of three parts, namely,
- A cell body contains a nucleus, smooth and rough endoplasmic reticulum, Golgi apparatus, mitochondria and other cellular components.
- Axon is a tube-like structure with branches at its end – these branches are called the axon terminals. The Axon tube carries the electrical signal from other neurons’ dendrites and passes it on to the axon terminal, where it’s converted to a chemical signal. These chemical signals are then passed on to other neurons’ dendrites, where it’s again reconverted to an electrical impulse. The axon terminal – dendrite junction is called the synapse, where the exchange of information takes place (electrical – chemical – electrical).
- Dendrites are branch-like structures extending from the cell body. While Axon from other neurons delivers the chemical impulse, dendrites receive it, convert it to an electrical impulse, and pass it on to its own axon body. This electrochemical process and exchange of signals between the brain and body organs happen in a fraction of a second.
Any damage to any of the above parts could result in nerve damage (or neurological disorder).
Neurologist vs neurosurgeon: What's the difference?
Neurologists like neurosurgeons are doctors who specialise in brain and nervous system disorders. But unlike neurosurgeons, they do not perform surgery. But, if you required one, they’d refer you to a neurosurgeon who’d be able to provide you with specialised care.
Neurologist vs psychiatrist: What's the difference between a Neurologist and a neuropsychiatrist?
Neurologists and psychiatrists both treated nervous system disorders and were thought to be the same for many years. But with the advancement of science and medicine, the profession branched out into two distinct fields:
- Neurology. This branch of medicine focuses on the brain, cognitive and behavioural disorders that present somatic symptoms (physical symptoms) – pain, ability to move or not move etc.
- Psychiatry. This branch of medicine focuses on mood disorders and thoughts associated with minor or no physical symptoms found in the neurological examination of motor and sensory systems – depression, anxiety, Schizophrenia.
Can neurologists treat depression?
Neurologists do not treat depression. Instead, they are treated by psychiatrists.
Can neurologists treat anxiety?
Neurologists do not treat anxiety. Psychiatrists treat them.
What is the difference between a neurologist and a spine specialist?
Neurologists are doctors who specialise in brain and nervous system disorders. They do not perform surgery. A spine specialist is an orthopaedic doctor who specialises in treating your spine.
What does a neurologist do on your first visit?
A neurologist will take your physical and neurological exam on your first visit — a neurological examination test for muscle strength, sensation, reflexes, and coordination.
Depending on your health condition, a neurologist may also prescribe further testing, or they may refer you to a different doctor to help treat your condition.
How does a neurologist test for nerve damage?
A neurologist will usually prescribe an electrodiagnostic test or nerve conduction study to measure the electrical activity of muscles and nerves. They may also prescribe a nerve biopsy, a spinal tap or an MRI to help diagnose your neurological condition.
What are the symptoms of nerve damage?
Here are some symptoms of nerve damage:
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of memory
- Numbness, tingling sensation, pricking and abnormal sensations
Do neurologists treat nerve damage?
Depending on the complexity and severity of the disease, your health condition may be treated by one or more of the following doctors: Neurologist, neurosurgeon, psychiatrists, spine specialist etc.
What are the 5 signs of mental illness?
Following are some symptoms of mental illness.
- Social withdrawal
- Hallucinations: visual, olfactory, auditory
Which is the best vitamin for nerve damage?
Vitamin B12 is known for its role in the development of genetic material and a healthy nervous system. Their deficiency could result in mental confusion and hallucinations.
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