Friday, January 19, 2007


Neurology: Back to Basics

Among the most frequent questions I am asked since I began writing this column has been “What is a neurologist?” This is probably a good time to backtrack a little and clarify the issue. A neurologist is a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases of the nervous system.

Neurologists do not perform surgery, but instead rely on medications and various physical therapies for treatment. Although there is some overlap, neurologists and psychiatrists are very different in their approach to patients. Neurologists claim no special qualification in treating psychiatric diseases.

A typical visit with a neurologist involves a detailed discussion of the patient’s complaint, as well as any symptoms they are experiencing. Relevant past history and family history will be questioned. The physical exam includes testing the cranial nerves, strength, sensation, coordination and reflexes. Based on the results of the examination, tests such as an MRI, EEG or electroneuromyography (EMG) may be ordered.

Conditions often treated by neurologists include disorders affecting the brain like stroke, epilepsy, brain tumors, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, migraine headaches and multiple sclerosis. Some neurologists specialize in treating diseases of the spinal cord, peripheral nerves and muscles. Some of these illnesses are amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease), peripheral neuropathy, muscular dystrophy and myasthenia gravis.

The field of neurology involves many areas of medicine and requires a broad range of medical knowledge and experience. Neurologists must coordinate care with other specialists including primary care, neurosurgery, pediatrics, oncology and rheumatology.

Neurologists touch the lives of many people young, old, male and female. Often our patients suffer from terminal, incapacitating diseases where there is little hope of a cure. It is in these situations that we are often called upon not to heal, but to advocate and insure that our patients receive the support and care they deserve.

Anthony G. Alessi, MD, MMM is a neurologist in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC in Norwich and a member of the Backus Hospital Medical Staff. He is also an Associate Clinical Professor of Neurology at UCONN. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Alessi and all of the Healthy Living columnists at

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