To receive the best care, you should always first consult your primary care doctor, and they might recommend you see a neurologist, or they might not be able to provide a satisfying answer for your concerns. It is good to be aware then of what a neurologist does and the symptoms they treat.
What Is a Neurologist?
A neurologist is a specialist who treats diseases in the brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system), peripheral nerves (nerves connecting the brain and spine to the organs, like the lungs or liver), and muscles. Neurological diseases can include headaches; epilepsy; stroke; movement disorders, such as tremor or Parkinson’s disease; and many others. Read more below about the most common symptoms of neurological disease.
Top 10 reasons you may want to see a neurologist:
- Headaches – Headaches are something we all experience. We can feel them stretching into our sinuses, across the top of our head, down through the muscles of the head, neck, and shoulders or along the base of the skull and brain. They can be caused by many conditions from a sinus infection to a throbbing toothache from a visit to the dentist. Symptoms of more serious headaches, including migraines, may be vomiting, a headache that becomes more severe or is continuous, a headache that comes on suddenly or pain that is worsened by strain, a headache that starts early in the morning, changes in vision, or even seizures. If your headache symptoms are severe enough, your primary care doctor may refer you to a neurologist.
- Chronic pain – Chronic pain is pain that lasts for months or even years. This pain can be the result of illness or injury, but when it lasts longer than the usual recovery time, it can become a symptom of a different problem. When this pain is not something your primary care physician can help you manage, you may choose to see a neurologist, especially if you have other symptoms along with the pain like weakness, numbness, or problems with bladder or bowel control.
- Dizziness – Dizziness can come in different varieties. Neurologists treat dizziness that is a symptom of vertigo or disequilibrium. Vertigo makes you feel as if you or the things around you are spinning; disequilibrium is difficulty keeping your balance. Your primary care doctor can help you decide if your dizziness is severe enough to see a neurologist.
- Numbness or tingling – Numbness or tingling can happen for many different reasons, some as simple as sitting in a way that cuts off your blood circulation or having not eaten. However, if this numbness continues, comes on suddenly, or only happens on one side of the body, it may be time to see a neurologist. Numbness or tingling symptoms like those described can also be signs of a stroke, in which case you need to get help very quickly. While your primary care doctor can help you evaluate these symptoms, if you think you are having a stroke, get immediate medical help.
- Weakness – Feelings of weakness that you should see a doctor for are different than tiredness or muscle aches after a long hike or lifting too many weights. Muscle weakness where you feel like it takes extra effort to move your arms and legs or make your muscles work is a symptom you should consult your doctor about. It could be caused by a more serious condition or disease of your nervous system, such as stroke.
- Movement problems – Problems moving, like difficulty walking, being clumsy, unintentional jerks or movements, tremors, or others, can be symptoms of a problem in your nervous system. You may want to see a neurologist if these movement problems interrupt your daily life, though something like a tremor can be a side effect of medication or anxiety. However, if your tremors also affect your daily activities, you may want to see a neurologist.
- Seizures – Seizures can be almost unnoticeable or very extreme. Symptoms of seizures can range from staring to loss of consciousness, jerking movements of the arms and legs, breathing problems, confusion, or loss of consciousness. While some seizures could be caused by low blood sugar or withdrawals from addictive substances, seizures that seem sudden or without any obvious cause are symptoms you should see your doctor about. Your primary care doctor can help you determine how serious your seizure is and if you should see a neurologist.
- Vision problems – Difficulty seeing can be caused by aging or by the nervous system. If the difficulty is sudden and happens in both eyes, you may want to have your vision evaluated. Either an eye doctor or your primary care doctor can advise you on whether you should see a neurologist about your vision problem.
- Memory problems or confusion – Problems speaking, extreme problems with memory, changes in personality, or confusion are all symptoms that could be caused by disorders or problems in the brain, spine, and nerves. Some of the symptoms may be due to learning disabilities or they may be caused by a disease like Alzheimer’s. Your primary care doctor can help you examine your symptoms and decide if you need to see a neurologist.
- Sleep problems – While we know many obvious causes of sleep problems, going to bed too late, having a condition like sleep apnea or anxiety, nightmares, or others, some sleep problems are neurological disorders. An example of this is narcolepsy, which is a chronic, genetic disorder with no known cause that affects the body’s central nervous system.
Many of these symptoms could be part of a disorder that is not neurological. Your primary care doctor is your greatest resource in helping you decide if you should see a neurologist. However, if your symptoms are severe enough (as in the case of stroke) or you are still not confidant in your primary doctor’s recommendations, you may choose to make an appointment with a neurologist.