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Neurology: Standard Exams and Scans

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Neurology Definition

Neurology is the medical specialty concerned with the study and treatment of the nervous system. The human nervous system consists of the brain, the spinal cord, and the nerves. There are hundreds of millions of nerve cells or neurons in the human body. The highest density of neurons exists in the human brain. Scientific neurology estimates suggest that there are more than 100 billion neurons in the human brain. Obviously, the sheer scope and complexity of the human nervous system presents an enormous challenge for diagnosis and treatment of neurological problems that arise.

Neurology Diagnosis and Treatment

Neurological issues can arise for a variety of reasons. Some neurological problems are transient and self-limiting and self-healing in nature. However, there are a large number of neurological diseases which require diagnosis and treatment. Fortunately, there have been some major advances in diagnostic equipment in recent years. The CT Scan, MRI Scan, Doppler Ultrasound, Electromyography (EMG), Electrocardiogram (EKG), Nuclear Imaging, and other diagnostic tools have dramatically enhanced neurological diagnostic success. At the same time, treatment options have expanded significantly in the last several decades as science gains a stronger understanding of neurological disease processes and treatment options.

Neurology Diagnostic Tools, Tests and Scans

Some of the most common neurological diagnostic equipment and procedures are as follows:


Angiography - also commonly referred to as arteriography utilizes x-ray or medical imaging technology to view blood vessels and organs within the body. Typically the patient is given a dye injection to provide a contrast for the medical images. The radio-opaque contrast agent is injected directly into an artery where it disseminates throughout the circulatory system. An angiogram or angiograph is an image of the blood vessels. The angiography is frequently used to detect problems with blood flow in the coronary arteries.

CT Scan or CAT Scan

A CT Scan - also commonly referred to as a CAT Scan is a computed tomographic scan. The CT Scan utilizes x-ray beams to produce an output that can be recognized and "read" by a computer. The CT Scan output is rendered into a 2 dimensional image of the scanned area of the body. Information from the CT Scan is then reviewed by a trained technician or Radiologist. The CT Scan image provides a cross section of the body tissue being examined. Neurological CT Scans typically focus on the head and spine. CT Scans or CAT Scans are frequently used to diagnose brain injuries resulting from a head trauma such as a concussion. They are also commonly used to examine brain tissue for signs of stroke, clotting, bleeding, tumors and other problems that can arise in the brain. Additionally, CT Scans can assist in detecting spinal stenosis or identifying a herniated disk in patients experiencing back pain.

Doppler Ultrasound

The Doppler ultrasound is commonly associated with the Doppler imaging of fetuses. Pregnant women frequently will have an ultrasound to assess the health and size of the fetus during pregnancy, to identify potential problems, or to ascertain the gender of the unborn child. However, the Doppler Ultrasound technology is also used extensively for a variety of other medical uses - such as to determine the velocity of blood flow to and from the heart or other organs in the human body. Cardiology studies rely significantly on the Doppler information to make accurate diagnoses of problems and overall health of the cardiovascular system. The Doppler data is displayed graphically allowing trained technicians to quickly evaluate results.

Electrocardiograph ECG, or EKG

The Electrocardiograph also frequently referred to as an EKG is used to measure electrical activity in the heart over a period of time. It is accomplished by attaching electrodes to the skin in various locations. The electrodes are in turn connected to an electrocardiographic device. Data from the captured electrical impulses is captured and by the device where it can be displayed on a screen or printed out for interpretation by a trained cardiologist. The EKG is one of the primary means whereby abnormal heart rhythms are detected. These abnormal heart rhythms can arise from damage to the heart from a myocardial infarction (MI) - or heart attack. The EKG is used to identify specific areas of the heart muscle that may have incurred damage in a heart attack.

Electromyography EMG

The electromyography or EMG is utilized to assess the health of the body's peripheral nerves - those in the extremities - arms and legs. This technology evaluates and measures the electrical impulses traveling between the brain and the nerves in various parts of the body. It is useful for identifying pinched or damaged nerves and can provide a relatively accurate estimate of the extent of nerve damage where it exists. Where nerve damage has occurred, the electrical impulses flowing between the brain the nerve may be weakened or compromised. Electrical activity occurring in muscles affected by the damaged nerve will also be measured to assess possible abnormalities and determine treatment options.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging MRI

Magnetic resonance imaging or MRI technology is a radiology technique used to provide detailed images of internal organs and other structures inside the human body. The MRI operates through the use of radio frequency fields and magnetic fields to produce an image of an area of interest. The resulting scanned image is evaluated by a trained technician or Radiologist to diagnose problems and possible treatments. MRI's are used frequently to image brain, muscle, heart and other soft tissue and to detect and monitor cancers and tumors and to identify the presence of other abnormalities. It can also be used to produce images of the spinal column and surrounding tissues to assess potential spine damage. No ionizing radiation is used to generate an MRI, making it a safer option than many of the other scanning options that employ radiation.

Nuclear Medicine Imaging

Nuclear medicine imaging required that radiopharmaceuticals be administered to the patient. These radiopharmaceuticals find their way to specific organs in the body. The nuclear medicine images are produced by measuring cellular function and metabolism within the body or the specific organ. The radiopharmaceuticals emit radiation. This radiation is absorbed at different rates by healthy and diseased tissue - allowing technologists to identify problems that may exist. The radiation data is captured by gamma cameras and used to create images. This process is very different from traditional scanning options which produce scans of the physical body tissue. Because nuclear medicine imaging evaluates the physiology and cellular activity of an organ, it can sometimes identify potential problems at an earlier stage than other scanning technologies. Nuclear medicine imaging is used frequently to perform very specific organ scans such as lung scans, heart scans, bone scans, and brain scans. Nuclear imaging is also used to conduct whole body scans such as the whole body PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scan and white blood cell scans.

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