Your nervous system handles many things usually taken for granted, like sensation or memory. As one of the body’s most intricate structures, it’s not always obvious when a part of the nervous system isn’t at its best. Many of these little things are nothing to worry about, but just to be sure, your doctor could recommend that you see a neurologist.
Understanding what the neurology specialty is all about will help you form a good relationship with your new neurologist, whether it’s someone your primary care doctor has recommended, or you’re researching for a new neurologist to offer a second opinion. Being well-informed and involved in your health care decisions will help you reach the best possible outcomes in diagnosis and treatment of neurological conditions.
What is a neurologist?
Neurologists study and treat the body’s nervous system. When TV doctors tap someone’s knee with a little hammer to see the leg kick, they’re testing the reflexes to make sure everything is hooked up properly. Determining that the brain is communicating with the body correctly is the neurologist’s basic role.
The brain, however, is a complicated instrument. Neurologists specialize in different specific fields that focus on separate areas of communication.
- Neurodevelopmental neurologists focus on improving the quality of life for patients whose brains haven’t grown optimally. Although there still isn’t a cure for these cases, experienced neurologists may help patients and families learn to live with their condition.
- Palliative neurologists work in pain management. The nervous system communicates pain to the body, but these signals can overwhelm patients whose pain is chronic. If the source of pain can’t be relieved, neurologists may nevertheless reduce the negative impact it has on someone’s life.
- Neurophysiologists study the interactions between the brain and the body structures it commands. While they don’t treat disorders per se, neurophysiologists play a significant role in identifying specific medical conditions and paving the way for more precise treatment.
Reasons to see a neurologist
Neurology is a broad field that covers many seemingly unrelated areas of the body. Since you might not think your symptoms are a big deal, it might come as a surprise when you’re referred to a neurologist. Here are some of the most common reasons leading to such referrals:
- Tingling in your extremities: While it’s often a simple circulation problem, tingling can also be caused by a range of issues you’ll want to have looked at.
- Headaches: Everyone has them from time to time, but chronic and persistent headaches can be worrying, especially when the pain is also felt in the neck or shoulders. Sinus infections often cause headaches, but a neurologist can check you out to make sure you’re not suffering from anything more serious.
- Tremors: Have you ever noticed your fingers shaking after exercise? These tremors can either be normal or serious. Neurologists often try to find the cause of tremors to make sure that it really is just coffee causing your hands to shake.
What a neurologist can do for you
Neurologists are experts at diagnosing the conditions that cause the symptoms listed above, and other neurological issues. For example, if you are suffering from chronic extreme headaches, a skilled neurologist might determine that you are suffering from migraines and help treat them by combining dietary changes, hormone therapy, and medication.
Of course, neurologists also diagnose and treat more serious conditions, including epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, etc. A neurologist will prescribe multiple medications and offer various treatments, such as therapies and lifestyle recommendations to find what works best for each individual patient.
A good neurologist will take great care to make an accurate diagnosis and present numerous care options. Your neurologist should be a good listener, sympathetic, and determined to discover an accurate diagnosis and provide a treatment course that works for you.
How are neurologists certified?
Neurologists are required to receive specific training and certification to get their license.
Like other doctors, neurologists must attend medical school and earn either a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) degree. Afterward, would-be neurologists must go through additional training during their residency and be tested by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, which administers a comprehensive two-part exam to students. In addition, neurologists need to be licensed in the particular state where they plan to work. You can verify all of this material and more ahead of your specialist appointment.
Research and referral
If your doctor wants to refer you to a neurologist, they may choose a specialist they know personally who is in the same medical network, so they can remain in communication about your overall healthcare plan. But you should have some level of choice in the matter. It’s important to check with your insurance company and follow your provider’s referral requirements. You can also use the internet to research specialists and check their qualifications.
If you find a specific neurologist you want to see, you may be able to request that your primary care doctor refers you to this particular specialist, especially if you have already been referred to one that you did not get along with or was not covered by your health insurance plan. Insurance providers may maintain lists of recommended in-network providers. Note that if your chosen specialist is not covered by your insurance plan, you may have to pay significant out of pocket expense. Make sure you fully understand what is and isn’t covered by insurance when scheduling any kind of medical appointment.
Meeting your neurologist
It’s perfectly normal to be nervous about your first meeting with a specialist. To make the experience easier, bring something to take notes. Consider writing down your questions in advance so you don’t forget them. These questions can include things like:
- “What type of work have you done on my condition in the past?” It can be useful to gauge your neurologist’s level of experience in dealing with the condition that concerns you.
- “How will my treatment influence my life?” This is important for allowing you to make an informed decision about your options.
- “Should I look for a second opinion?” Doctors do the best they can, but no one is perfect. Doctors generally understand that these cases can seriously impact your life, and they’re usually open to you seeking a second opinion. If your doctor instead becomes offended when you ask, that could be a red flag.