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A network of dendrites from neurons in the hippocampus.
System Nervous system
Significant diseases Neuropathy, dementia, stroke, encephalopathy, Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, meningitis, muscular dystrophy, migraine, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
Significant tests Computed axial tomography, MRI scan, lumbar puncture, electroencephalography
Glossary Glossary of medicine

Neurology (from Greek : νεῦρον (neûron) , "string, nerve" and the suffix -logia, "study of") is the branch of medicine dealing with the diagnosis and treatment of all categories of conditions and disease involving the brain, the spinal cord and the peripheral nerves. [1] Neurological practice relies heavily on the field of neuroscience, the scientific study of the nervous system.


A neurologist is a physician specializing in neurology and trained to investigate, diagnose and treat neurological disorders. [2] Neurologists treat a myriad of neurologic conditions, including stroke, seizures, movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease, autoimmune neurologic disorders such as multiple sclerosis, headache disorders like migraine and dementias such as Alzheimer's disease. [3] Neurologists may also be involved in clinical research, clinical trials, and basic or translational research. While neurology is a nonsurgical specialty, its corresponding surgical specialty is neurosurgery. [2]


The academic discipline began between the 15th and 16th centuries with the work and research of many neurologists such as Thomas Willis, Robert Whytt, Matthew Baillie, Charles Bell, Moritz Heinrich Romberg, Duchenne de Boulogne, William A. Hammond, Jean-Martin Charcot, C. Miller Fisher and John Hughlings Jackson. Neo-Latin neurologia appeared in various texts from 1610 denoting an anatomical focus on the nerves (variably understood as vessels), and was most notably used by Willis, who preferred Greek νευρολογία. [4] [5]


NamesPhysician, Medical Practitioner
Occupation type
Activity sectors
Education required
M.D. or D.O. (US), M.B.B.S. (UK), D.M. (Doctorate of Medicine) (India), M.B. B.Ch. B.A.O. (Republic of Ireland) [6] [7]
Fields of
Hospitals, Clinics
Polish neurologist Edward Flatau greatly influenced the developing field of neurology. He published a human brain atlas in 1894 and wrote a fundamental book on migraines in 1912. Edward Flatau.jpg
Polish neurologist Edward Flatau greatly influenced the developing field of neurology. He published a human brain atlas in 1894 and wrote a fundamental book on migraines in 1912.
Jean-Martin Charcot is considered one of the fathers of neurology. Charcot1893.jpg
Jean-Martin Charcot is considered one of the fathers of neurology.

Many neurologists also have additional training or interest in one area of neurology, such as stroke, epilepsy, headache, neuromuscular disorders, sleep medicine, pain management, or movement disorders.

In the United States and Canada, neurologists are physicians who have completed a postgraduate training period known as residency specializing in neurology after graduation from medical school. This additional training period typically lasts five years, with the first year devoted to training in internal medicine. [9] On average, neurologists complete a total of eight to ten years of training. This includes four years of medical school, five years of residency and an optional one to two years of fellowship. [10]

While neurologists may treat general neurologic conditions, some neurologists go on to receive additional training focusing on a particular subspecialty in the field of neurology. These training programs are called fellowships, and are one to two years in duration. Subspecialties include brain injury medicine, clinical neurophysiology, epilepsy, neurodevelopmental disabilities, neuromuscular medicine, pain medicine, sleep medicine, neurocritical care, vascular neurology (stroke), [11] behavioral neurology, child neurology, headache, multiple sclerosis, neuroimaging, neurooncology, and neurorehabilitation.

In Germany, a compulsory year of psychiatry must be done to complete a residency of neurology. [12]

In the United Kingdom and Ireland, neurology is a subspecialty of general (internal) medicine. After five years of medical school and two years as a Foundation Trainee, an aspiring neurologist must pass the examination for Membership of the Royal College of Physicians (or the Irish equivalent) and complete two years of core medical training before entering specialist training in neurology. [13] Up to the 1960s, some intending to become neurologists would also spend two years working in psychiatric units before obtaining a diploma in psychological medicine. However, that was uncommon and, now that the MRCPsych takes three years to obtain, would no longer be practical. A period of research is essential, and obtaining a higher degree aids career progression. Many found it was eased after an attachment to the Institute of Neurology at Queen Square, London. Some neurologists enter the field of rehabilitation medicine (known as physiatry in the US) to specialise in neurological rehabilitation, which may include stroke medicine, as well as traumatic brain injuries.[ citation needed ]

Physical examination

During a neurological examination, the neurologist reviews the patient's health history with special attention to the patient’s neurologic complaints. The patient then takes a neurological exam. Typically, the exam tests mental status, function of the cranial nerves (including vision), strength, coordination, reflexes, sensation and gait. This information helps the neurologist determine whether the problem exists in the nervous system and the clinical localization. Localization of the pathology is the key process by which neurologists develop their differential diagnosis. Further tests may be needed to confirm a diagnosis and ultimately guide therapy and appropriate management.

Clinical tasks

Neurologists examine patients who are referred to them by other physicians in both the inpatient and outpatient settings. Neurologists begin their interactions with patients by taking a comprehensive medical history, and then performing a physical examination focusing on evaluating the nervous system. Components of the neurological examination include assessment of the patient's cognitive function, cranial nerves, motor strength, sensation, reflexes, coordination, and gait.

In some instances, neurologists may order additional diagnostic tests as part of the evaluation. Commonly employed tests in neurology include imaging studies such as computed axial tomography (CAT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and ultrasound of major blood vessels of the head and neck. Neurophysiologic studies, including electroencephalography (EEG), needle electromyography (EMG), nerve conduction studies (NCSs) and evoked potentials are also commonly ordered. [14] Neurologists frequently perform lumbar punctures to assess characteristics of a patient's cerebrospinal fluid. Advances in genetic testing have made genetic testing an important tool in the classification of inherited neuromuscular disease and diagnosis of many other neurogenetic diseases. The role of genetic influences on the development of acquired neurologic diseases is an active area of research.

Some of the commonly encountered conditions treated by neurologists include headaches, radiculopathy, neuropathy, stroke, dementia, seizures and epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, [15] Parkinson's disease, Tourette's syndrome, multiple sclerosis, head trauma, sleep disorders, neuromuscular diseases, and various infections and tumors of the nervous system. Neurologists are also asked to evaluate unresponsive patients on life support to confirm brain death.

Treatment options vary depending on the neurological problem. They can include referring the patient to a physiotherapist, prescribing medications, or recommending a surgical procedure.

Some neurologists specialize in certain parts of the nervous system or in specific procedures. For example, clinical neurophysiologists specialize in the use of EEG and intraoperative monitoring to diagnose certain neurological disorders. [16] Other neurologists specialize in the use of electrodiagnostic medicine studies – needle EMG and NCSs. In the US, physicians do not typically specialize in all the aspects of clinical neurophysiology – i.e. sleep, EEG, EMG, and NCSs. The American Board of Clinical Neurophysiology certifies US physicians in general clinical neurophysiology, epilepsy, and intraoperative monitoring. [17] The American Board of Electrodiagnostic Medicine certifies US physicians in electrodiagnostic medicine and certifies technologists in nerve-conduction studies. [18] Sleep medicine is a subspecialty field in the US under several medical specialties including anesthesiology, internal medicine, family medicine, and neurology. [19] Neurosurgery is a distinct specialty that involves a different training path, and emphasizes the surgical treatment of neurological disorders.

Also, many nonmedical doctors, those with doctoral degrees (usually PhDs) in subjects such as biology and chemistry, study and research the nervous system. Working in laboratories in universities, hospitals, and private companies, these neuroscientists perform clinical and laboratory experiments and tests to learn more about the nervous system and find cures or new treatments for diseases and disorders.

A great deal of overlap occurs between neuroscience and neurology. Many neurologists work in academic training hospitals, where they conduct research as neuroscientists in addition to treating patients and teaching neurology to medical students.

General caseload

Neurologists are responsible for the diagnosis, treatment, and management of all the conditions mentioned above. When surgical or endovascular intervention is required, the neurologist may refer the patient to a neurosurgeon or an interventional neuroradiologist. In some countries, additional legal responsibilities of a neurologist may include making a finding of brain death when it is suspected that a patient has died. Neurologists frequently care for people with hereditary (genetic) diseases when the major manifestations are neurological, as is frequently the case. Lumbar punctures are frequently performed by neurologists. Some neurologists may develop an interest in particular subfields, such as stroke, dementia, movement disorders, neurointensive care, headaches, epilepsy, sleep disorders, chronic pain management, multiple sclerosis, or neuromuscular diseases.

Overlapping areas

Some overlap also occurs with other specialties, varying from country to country and even within a local geographic area. Acute head trauma is most often treated by neurosurgeons, whereas sequelae of head trauma may be treated by neurologists or specialists in rehabilitation medicine. Although stroke cases have been traditionally managed by internal medicine or hospitalists, the emergence of vascular neurology and interventional neuroradiology has created a demand for stroke specialists. The establishment of Joint Commission-certified stroke centers has increased the role of neurologists in stroke care in many primary, as well as tertiary, hospitals. Some cases of nervous system infectious diseases are treated by infectious disease specialists. Most cases of headache are diagnosed and treated primarily by general practitioners, at least the less severe cases. Likewise, most cases of sciatica are treated by general practitioners, though they may be referred to neurologists or surgeons (neurosurgeons or orthopedic surgeons). Sleep disorders are also treated by pulmonologists and psychiatrists. Cerebral palsy is initially treated by pediatricians, but care may be transferred to an adult neurologist after the patient reaches a certain age. Physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians may treat patients with neuromuscular diseases with electrodiagnostic studies (needle EMG and nerve-conduction studies) and other diagnostic tools. In the United Kingdom and other countries, many of the conditions encountered by older patients such as movement disorders, including Parkinson's disease, stroke, dementia, or gait disorders, are managed predominantly by specialists in geriatric medicine.

Clinical neuropsychologists are often called upon to evaluate brain-behavior relationships for the purpose of assisting with differential diagnosis, planning rehabilitation strategies, documenting cognitive strengths and weaknesses, and measuring change over time (e.g., for identifying abnormal aging or tracking the progression of a dementia)

Relationship to clinical neurophysiology

In some countries such as the United States and Germany, neurologists may subspecialize in clinical neurophysiology, the field responsible for EEG and intraoperative monitoring, or in electrodiagnostic medicine nerve conduction studies, EMG, and evoked potentials. In other countries, this is an autonomous specialty (e.g., United Kingdom, Sweden, Spain).

Overlap with psychiatry

In the past, prior to the advent of more advanced diagnostic techniques such as MRI some neurologists have considered psychiatry and neurologic to overlap. Although mental illnesses are believed by many to be neurological disorders affecting the central nervous system, traditionally they are classified separately, and treated by psychiatrists. In a 2002 review article in the American Journal of Psychiatry , Professor Joseph B. Martin, Dean of Harvard Medical School and a neurologist by training, wrote, "the separation of the two categories is arbitrary, often influenced by beliefs rather than proven scientific observations. And the fact that the brain and mind are one makes the separation artificial anyway". [20]

Neurological disorders often have psychiatric manifestations, such as post-stroke depression, depression and dementia associated with Parkinson's disease, mood and cognitive dysfunctions in Alzheimer's disease, and Huntington disease, to name a few. Hence, the sharp distinction between neurology and psychiatry is not always on a biological basis. The dominance of psychoanalytic theory in the first three-quarters of the 20th century has since then been largely replaced by a focus on pharmacology. [21] Despite the shift to a medical model, brain science has not advanced to a point where scientists or clinicians can point to readily discernible pathological lesions or genetic abnormalities that in and of themselves serve as reliable or predictive biomarkers of a given mental disorder.

Neurological enhancement

The emerging field of neurological enhancement highlights the potential of therapies to improve such things as workplace efficacy, attention in school, and overall happiness in personal lives. [22] However, this field has also given rise to questions about neuroethics and the psychopharmacology of lifestyle drugs can have negative and positive effects on neurology because different types of drugs can depend on people and their lives [Cheyanne l.dorsey]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Neurosurgery</span> Medical specialty of disorders which affect any portion of the nervous system

Neurosurgery or neurological surgery, known in common parlance as brain surgery, is the medical specialty concerned with the surgical treatment of disorders which affect any portion of the nervous system including the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nervous system.

A psychiatrist is a physician who specializes in psychiatry, the branch of medicine devoted to the diagnosis, prevention, study, and treatment of mental disorders. Psychiatrists are physicians and evaluate patients to determine whether their symptoms are the result of a physical illness, a combination of physical and mental ailments or strictly mental issues. Sometimes a psychiatrist works within a multi-disciplinary team, which may comprise clinical psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, and nursing staff. Psychiatrists have broad training in a biopsychosocial approach to the assessment and management of mental illness.

Clinical neurophysiology is a medical specialty that studies the central and peripheral nervous systems through the recording of bioelectrical activity, whether spontaneous or stimulated. It encompasses both research regarding the pathophysiology along with clinical methods used to diagnose diseases involving both central and peripheral nervous systems. Examinations in the clinical neurophysiology field are not limited to tests conducted in a laboratory. It is thought of as an extension of a neurologic consultation. Tests that are conducted are concerned with measuring the electrical functions of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves in the limbs and muscles. It can give the precise definition of site, the type and degree of the lesion, along with revealing the abnormalities that are in question. Due to these abilities, clinical neurophysiology is used to mainly help diagnose diseases rather than treat them.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke</span> Department of the U.S. National Institutes of Health

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) is a part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). It conducts and funds research on brain and nervous system disorders and has a budget of just over US$2.03 billion. The mission of NINDS is "to reduce the burden of neurological disease—a burden borne by every age group, every segment of society, and people all over the world". NINDS has established two major branches for research: an extramural branch that funds studies outside the NIH, and an intramural branch that funds research inside the NIH. Most of NINDS' budget goes to fund extramural research. NINDS' basic science research focuses on studies of the fundamental biology of the brain and nervous system, genetics, neurodegeneration, learning and memory, motor control, brain repair, and synapses. NINDS also funds clinical research related to diseases and disorders of the brain and nervous system, e.g. AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injury, stroke, and traumatic brain injury.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Neuropathology</span> Study of disease of nervous system tissue

Neuropathology is the study of disease of nervous system tissue, usually in the form of either small surgical biopsies or whole-body autopsies. Neuropathologists usually work in a department of anatomic pathology, but work closely with the clinical disciplines of neurology, and neurosurgery, which often depend on neuropathology for a diagnosis. Neuropathology also relates to forensic pathology because brain disease or brain injury can be related to cause of death. Neuropathology should not be confused with neuropathy, which refers to disorders of the nerves themselves rather than the tissues. In neuropathology, the branches of the specializations of nervous system as well as the tissues come together into one field of study.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nerve conduction study</span> Diagnostic test for nerve function

A nerve conduction study (NCS) is a medical diagnostic test commonly used to evaluate the function, especially the ability of electrical conduction, of the motor and sensory nerves of the human body. These tests may be performed by medical specialists such as clinical neurophysiologists, physical therapists, chiropractors, physiatrists, and neurologists who subspecialize in electrodiagnostic medicine. In the United States, neurologists and physiatrists receive training in electrodiagnostic medicine as part of residency training and in some cases acquire additional expertise during a fellowship in clinical neurophysiology, electrodiagnostic medicine, or neuromuscular medicine. Outside the US, clinical neurophysiologists learn needle EMG and NCS testing.

Neuropsychiatry or Organic Psychiatry is a branch of medicine that deals with psychiatry as it relates to neurology, in an effort to understand and attribute behavior to the interaction of neurobiology and social psychology factors. Within neuropsychiatry, the mind is considered "as an emergent property of the brain", whereas other behavioral and neurological specialties might consider the two as separate entities. Neuropsychiatry preceded the current disciplines of psychiatry and neurology, which previously had common training, however, those disciplines have subsequently diverged and are typically practiced separately.

The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, Inc. (ABPN) is a not-for-profit corporation that was founded in 1934 following conferences of committees appointed by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Neurological Association, and the then "Section on Nervous and Mental Diseases" of the American Medical Association. This action was taken as a method of identifying qualified specialists in psychiatry and neurology. The ABPN is one of 24 member boards of the American Board of Medical Specialties.

A fellowship is the period of medical training, in the United States and Canada, that a physician, dentist, or veterinarian may undertake after completing a specialty training program (residency). During this time, the physician is known as a fellow. Fellows are capable of acting as an attending physician or a consultant physician in the specialist field in which they were trained, such as internal medicine or pediatrics. After completing a fellowship in the relevant sub-specialty, the physician is permitted to practice without direct supervision by other physicians in that sub-specialty, such as cardiology or oncology.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Neurointensive care</span>

Neurocritical care is a medical field that treats life-threatening diseases of the nervous system and identifies, prevents, and treats secondary brain injury.

Geriatric neurology is the branch of medicine that studies neurologic disorders in elderly.

An epileptologist is a neurologist who specializes in the treatment of epilepsy. Epileptologists are experts in epileptic seizures and seizure disorders, anticonvulsants, and special situations involving seizures, such as cases in which all treatment intended to stop seizures has failed and epilepsy in pregnant women. Some epileptologists specialize in treatment of epilepsy in children.

Clinical neuroscience is a branch of neuroscience that focuses on the scientific study of fundamental mechanisms that underlie diseases and disorders of the brain and central nervous system. It seeks to develop new ways of conceptualizing and diagnosing such disorders and ultimately of developing novel treatments.

The Mischer Neuroscience Institute is a combined research and education effort between the Vivian L. Smith Department of Neurosurgery and the Department of Neurology at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston and Memorial Hermann Hospital. Located in Houston, the Institute draws patients from around the world for specialized treatment of diseases of the brain and spine. It was the first center in Texas and one of only a few institutions in the country to fully integrate neurology, neurosurgery, neuroradiology, neuro-oncology, spine surgery, pain medicine and neurorehabilitation.

The American Osteopathic Board of Neurology and Psychiatry (AOBNP) is an organization that provides board certification to qualified Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) who specialize in disorders of the nervous system (neurologists) and to qualified Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders (psychiatrists).

Charles Francis Bolton, MD, CM, MS, FRCP(C), is a Canadian professor of neurology at Queen's University in Ontario, Canada. He was first to describe critical illness polyneuropathy in a series of patients.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">European Academy of Neurology</span> European non-profit organization that supports neurologists

The European Academy of Neurology (EAN) is a non-profit organisation that unites and supports neurologists across Europe. Currently, 47 European national neurological societies as well as 2300 individuals are registered members of EAN. Thus, EAN represents more than 45,000 European neurologists.

Electrodiagnosis (EDX) is a method of medical diagnosis that obtains information about diseases by passively recording the electrical activity of body parts or by measuring their response to external electrical stimuli. The most widely used methods of recording spontaneous electrical activity are various forms of electrodiagnostic testing (electrography) such as electrocardiography (ECG), electroencephalography (EEG), and electromyography (EMG). Electrodiagnostic medicine is a medical subspecialty of neurology, clinical neurophysiology, cardiology, and physical medicine and rehabilitation. Electrodiagnostic physicians apply electrophysiologic techniques, including needle electromyography and nerve conduction studies to diagnose, evaluate, and treat people with impairments of the neurologic, neuromuscular, and/or muscular systems. The provision of a quality electrodiagnostic medical evaluation requires extensive scientific knowledge that includes anatomy and physiology of the peripheral nerves and muscles, the physics and biology of the electrical signals generated by muscle and nerve, the instrumentation used to process these signals, and techniques for clinical evaluation of diseases of the peripheral nerves and sensory pathways.

The American Association of Neuromuscular & Electrodiagnostic Medicine (AANEM) is a medical society for the medical subspecialty of neuromuscular and electrodiagnostic medicine based in the United States. Members are primarily neurologists and physiatrists—as well as allied health professionals and PhD researchers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Michael Jeffrey Aminoff</span> American clinical neurologist and neurophysiologist

Michael Jeffrey Aminoff is a clinical neurologist and neurophysiologist whose work currently focuses on treating Parkinson's disease and related movement disorders. He lives in San Francisco, California.


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