Neurology is a branch of medical science that is concerned with disorders and diseases of the nervous system. The term neurology comes from a combination of two words - "neuron" meaning nerve and "logia" meaning "the study of".
There are around a hundred billion neurons in the brain, capable of generating their own impulses and of receiving and transmitting impulses from neighbouring cells. Neurology involves the study of:
- The central nervous system, the peripheral nervous system and the autonomic nervous system.
- Structural and functional disorders of the nervous system ranging from birth defects through to degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.
Mankind has been familiar with disorders of the nervous system for centuries. Parkinson's disease, for example, was described as the ‘shaking palsy' in 1817. It was only late into the 20th century, however, that a deficiency in the neurotransmitter dopamine was identified as the cause of Parkinson's disease and its symptoms such as tremors and muscle rigidity. Alzheimer's disease was first described in 1906.
Neurology also involves understanding and interpreting imaging and electrical studies. Examples of the imaging studies used include computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. An electroencephalogram (EEG) can be used to assess the electrical activity of the brain in the diagnosis of conditions such as epilepsy. Neurologists also diagnose infections of the nervous system by analysing the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a clear fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.
Neurologists study an undergraduate degree, spend four years at medical school and complete a one year internship. This is followed by three years of specialized training and, often, additional training in a particular area of the discipline such as stroke, epilepsy or movement disorders. Neurologists are usually physicians but they may also refer their patients to surgeons specializing in neurology called neurosurgeons.
Some examples of the diseases and disorders neurologists may treat include stroke, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, amyotropic lateral sclerosis, migraine, epilepsy, sleep disorders, pain, tremors, brain and spinal cord injury, peripheral nerve disease and brain tumors.