Your primary care doctor can treat a variety of conditions, from acute illness like the flu to chronic conditions like hypertension.
However, some conditions need specialized care and treatment. This includes conditions of the nervous system like seizures, migraine, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and stroke. For these conditions, your doctor will likely recommend that you see a specialist called a neurologist.
A neurologist can assess your symptoms, diagnose your condition, and oversee your treatment.
Why would my doctor refer me to a neurologist?
A neurologist is a specialist who can treat conditions that affect your nervous system. Your nervous system includes your brain, nerves, and spinal cord.
Conditions that impact these areas can cause pain, memory loss, difficulty with speech, and more. These conditions often require testing and treatments your primary care doctor can’t do in their office or clinic.
Symptoms that might cause your doctor to refer you to a neurologist include:
- unexplained pain
- memory loss
- tremors or shaking
- difficulty with balance
The neurologist can assess your symptoms and conduct tests to make a diagnosis and help you get the treatment you need.
What conditions does a neurologist treat?
Neurologists treat conditions that affect your nervous symptom. This can include injuries to your brain or spinal cord, acute conditions such as strokes, or chronic conditions such as epilepsy.
Not all head injuries will require a neurologist appointment, but sometimes a neurologist might be needed to help determine the extent of your injuries and help develop a treatment plan.
For example, people who’ve had a concussion can have symptoms that linger for months. This is called post-concussion syndrome. They might need additional testing and treatment for the headaches and memory problems the condition can cause.
Everyone gets occasional headaches, but people who get headaches often might need additional care. Your doctor might refer you to a neurologist if you have unexplained headaches multiple times a week, especially if you’ve had the headaches for a while or if they don’t get better with over-the-counter treatments.
A neurologist can pinpoint the cause of your headaches and help you find effective treatments.
Migraine attacks are a common reason to see a neurologist. Besides being painful, the condition often causes sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and dizziness. The pain of a migraine can last for hours or days.
A neurologist can diagnose your migraine as well as identify any triggers you might have and recommend how to avoid them. They can also prescribe medications to prevent and treat migraine.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic condition that affects your brain and spinal cord, causing numbness, weakness, and tingling sensations. Many people also experience changes in their vision. MS is progressive, and symptoms can be different at different times.
A neurologist can diagnose MS and help you manage your condition with the right treatments and medications.
Seizure or epilepsy
A seizure causes uncontrolled movements and strange sensations. In many cases, it also causes the person having it to lose consciousness. Seizures start in your brain and can be dangerous.
After you’ve had a seizure, a doctor might refer you to a neurologist for further testing. They can do tests and imaging to find the cause of your seizure. They can also diagnose long-term seizure conditions, such as epilepsy.
Once you have a diagnosis, a neurologist can prescribe medications and treatments to help control your seizures.
Parkinson’s is a condition that occurs when your brain can’t make the dopamine it needs to control your body movement. This causes tremors, stiffness, and lack of coordination.
A neurologist can assess you for Parkinson’s. They can make sure no other condition is causing your symptoms and prescribe treatments and medications that can help you manage them.
A stroke occurs when you lose blood supply to your brain. Without blood supply, brain cells begin to die. This can cause difficulty with speech, controlling your emotions, and more. Even when the stroke is over, you’ll need treatment to regain any skills that were lost.
A neurologist can help assess the extent of the damage to your brain. They can develop a treatment plan and prescribe medications to help you recover.
Other neurological symptoms like dizziness, memory loss, or unexplained pain
There are many other symptoms that might lead your doctor to refer you to a neurologist. These are generally unexplained symptoms that could be caused by several conditions.
For example, unexplained pain could be the result of multiple conditions that cause your nerves to become overactive, while dizziness could be the result of injury or inflammation to your brain.
Memory loss can also lead people to a neurologist. You might be referred if you’ve been having increased forgetfulness, trouble concentrating, and brain fog.
A neurologist can determine whether the cause is dementia or another neurological condition that impacts memory. They can also prescribe medications to help slow down the dementia or treat the other underlying condition.
Neurological symptoms after recovering from COVID-19
Doctors are still learning about COVID-19 and studying the effects it can have on people. It’s been observed that some people who’ve had COVID-19 experience neurologic symptoms that linger even after they’ve been treated. These lingering symptoms can include:
- cognitive issues
- trouble sleeping
At the time of this article, it’s unclear how long these symptoms might last in a person who had COVID-19. As doctors learn more about COVID-19 and its effects on the body, they might be able to see more patterns in these symptoms or determine a normal timeline for complete recovery.
No matter how long these symptoms last, a neurologist can help. They can make sure there’s no other cause for the symptoms and can help patients manage them. They can also record and track these symptoms to help the healthcare community understand how to better treat them.
Do neurologists treat mental health conditions?
Neurologists treat nervous system conditions. This includes conditions that impact your brain, like concussions or seizures, but it doesn’t include mental health conditions like depression.
Neurologists specialize in physical conditions that are caused by damage or disease to your nervous system. They don’t treat conditions that involve brain chemicals or brain function.
However, a specialist called a neuropsychologist can treat depression and other mental health conditions. They study the relationship between your brain and the actions you take, and they treat the way your brain influences the things you do in everyday life.
They can help you manage any conditions through strategy and intervention. Neuropsychologists don’t prescribe medications.
Although neurologists don’t treat mental health conditions like depression, it’s important to talk to them about your mental health. If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition, let your neurologist know. It could be causing symptoms that are similar to neurological conditions.
For example, depression can lead to unexplained trouble with memory.
Preparing for your first neurologist appointment
Seeing a specialist can be overwhelming and unnerving. Being prepared can bring down your stress level and help you make the most of your appointment. You can take steps to prepare, such as:
- Write down the symptoms you’ve been having.
- Keep track of how often you’re having your symptoms in a log or journal.
- Make a list of questions you’d like to have answered.
- If you can, fill out your medical history and other paperwork online before your appointment.
- If your symptoms have made driving difficult, arrange a ride there and back home.
What to expect during your first visit with a neurologist
Your first neurologist visit will start with questions about your health history. They’ll want to know about your symptoms and how long you’ve had them. They may ask about any other specialists you’ve seen or treatments you’ve tried. Then you’ll also have a physical exam, which will include tests of your:
- mental state
Depending on your symptoms and your physical exam, the neurologist might order further tests. Testing might involve imaging or other types of diagnostic tests.
You might need multiple tests to help the neurologist identify what’s causing your symptoms. If you don’t have these additional tests during your first appointment, your neurologist might order one or more of them.
Potential imaging tests include:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRIs use magnetic imaging and radio waves to take pictures of the inside of your brain. This can help the neurologist look for swelling and other damage.
- Computed tomography (CAT or CT Scan). CT or CAT scans use a combination of X-ray and computer imaging technology to create detailed images of the inside of your body. They let doctors look for any abnormalities that could be causing your symptoms.
Other potential diagnostic tests include:
- Transcranial doppler (TCD). A TCD is a test that uses sound waves to measure the blood flow in your brain.
- Electroencephalogram (EEG). During an EEG, electrodes will be placed on your scalp to measure electrical activity in your brain.
- Electromyogram (EMG). An EMG is done by inserting small needles into your muscles to test your nerves and record the electrical activity in your muscles.
- Lumbar puncture. During a lumbar puncture, your back will be numbed and a doctor will use a long needed to remove fluid from your spine. This helps check for infections and other conditions that affect your spine.
Tips for choosing a neurologist
Finding the right neurologist can help you get the care you need. You can make sure you find the best care by doing the following:
- Make sure any neurologist you see is licensed in your state and local area. DocInfo lets you search for doctors by name to see their credentials and background.
- Consult online reviews of the neurologist you’re considering.
- Make sure any neurologist you’re considering seeing is part of your insurance provider’s network.
- Ask your doctor for a list of neurologist recommendations.
- Ask friends who’ve seen a neurologist who they saw and what their experience was like.
- If you’re already diagnosed with a condition such as MS, epilepsy, or Parkinson’s, make sure the neurologist has experience in your condition.
- Check with local support groups or online message boards for recommendations.
You may need to see other doctors and healthcare professionals as well
A neurologist can work with your primary care doctor, or they might take over your care for a specific condition. Depending on your condition, you might be referred to multiple healthcare professionals.
These professionals can work together as part of a medical team. They can help you manage your condition, recover from injuries, and more. With your permission, your team will pass information about your progress along to other team members.
The members of your healthcare team will depend on your condition, but may include:
- A speech therapist. They can help you after you’ve had a stroke or brain injury. They can work with you to help you regain your ability to swallow, eat, and speak clearly.
- A physical therapist. They can help you manage the pain of multiple conditions. They can also help you regain your strength and balance.
- An occupational therapist. They help you regain or learn the skills you need in everyday life. For example, they can help you regain your ability to get dressed, shower, and do other self-care activities after a stroke or brain injury.
- A pain medicine specialist. They can figure out the right treatments and medications to manage any pain you’re having.
- A physical medicine and rehabilitation physician. They can help people recovering from injuries and illness, as well as people who have chronic pain. They can help manage your treatment plan.
- A psychiatrist or other mental health professional. Many conditions that can lead you to seek the care of neurologists can also have an impact on your mental health. It can be helpful to talk to a professional to help you cope and manage stress and depression. Some forms of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) have also been proven to help people with chronic pain manage their condition.
Neurologists are specialists who can assess, diagnose, manage, and treat conditions that affect your nervous system.
Your doctor might refer you to a neurologist if you’re having symptoms that could be caused by a neurological condition, such as pain, memory loss, trouble with balance, or tremors.
A neurologist can order specialized testing to help diagnose your condition. Once you have the right diagnosis, you can start to get the care you need.