Neurosciences refers to the branch of medicine that focuses on the nervous system. The nervous system is made of two parts:
- The central nervous system consists of your brain and spinal cord.
- The peripheral nervous system consists of all your nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord including, including those in your arms, legs and trunk of the body.
Together, your brain and spinal cord serve as the main "processing center" for the entire nervous system, and control all the functions of your body.
A number of different medical conditions can affect the nervous system, including:
- Blood vessel disorders in the brain, including arteriovenous malformations and cerebral aneurysms
- Brain cancer
- Chronic pain
- Dementia, including Alzheimer's disease
- Disorders of the pituitary gland
- Headaches, including migraines
- Movement disorders such as tremors and Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Neuro-ophthalmologic disease, which are vision problems that result from damage to the optic nerve or its connections to the brain
- Peripheral nerve diseases, which affect the nerves that carry information to and from the brain and spinal cord
- Spine disorders
DIAGNOSIS AND TESTING
Neurologists and other neuroscience specialists use special tests and imaging techniques to see how the nerves and brain are working.
In addition to blood and urine tests, tests done to diagnose nervous system diseases may include:
- Computed tomography (CT scan)
- Discography (x-ray of the spinal discs) to determine the cause of low back pain
- Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to check for infections of the spinal cord and brain
- Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)
- Electroencephalography (EEG) to look at brain activity
- Electromyography (EMG) to test nerve and muscle function
- Electronystagmography (ENG) to check for abnormal eye movements, which can be a sign of a brain disorder
- Evoked potentials (or evoked response), which looks at how the brain responds to sounds, sight, and touch
- Magnetoencephalography (MEG)
- Myelogram of the spine to diagnose nerve injury
- Nerve conduction velocity (NCV) test
- Neurocognitive testing (neuropsychological testing)
- Polysomnogram to see how the brain reacts during sleep
- Position emission tomography (PET) scan to look at brain metabolic activity
Neuroradiology is a branch of neuroscience medicine that focuses on diagnosing and treating nervous system problems.
Interventional neuroradiology involves inserting tiny, flexible tubes called catheters into blood vessels in the groin area and up into the blood vessels leading to the brain. This allows the doctor to treat blood vessel disorders that can affect the nervous system, such as stroke.
Interventional neuroradiology (or vascular therapy) treatments include:
- Balloon angioplasty and stenting of carotid or vertebral artery
- Endovascular embolization and coiling to treat cerebral aneurysms
- Intra-arterial therapy for stroke
- Radiation oncology of the brain and spine
Open or traditional neurosurgery may be needed in some cases to treat problems in the brain and surrounding structures. This is more invasive surgery that requires the surgeon to make an opening, called a craniotomy, in the skull.
Microsurgery allows the surgeon to work on very small structures in the brain using a microscope and very small, precise instruments.
Stereotactic radiosurgery may be needed for certain types of nervous system disorders. This is a form of radiation therapy that focuses high-powered x-rays on a small area of the body, thereby avoiding damage to surrounding brain tissue.
Treatment of nervous system-related diseases or disorders varies may also include:
- Medications, possibly given by a drug pumps (such as those used for patients with severe muscle spasms)
- Deep brain stimulation
- Rehabilitation/physical therapy after brain injuries or stroke
- Spinal surgery
WHO IS INVOLVED
The neurosciences medical team is often made up of health care providers from many different specialties. This may include:
- Neurologist: A doctor specialist who has received extra training in the treatment of brain and nervous system disorders
- Vascular surgeon: A doctor who has received extra training in the surgical treatment of blood vessel disorders
- Neurosurgeon: A doctor who has received extra training in brain and spine surgery
- Neuropsychologist: A doctor specially trained in administering and interpreting tests of the cognitive function of the brain
- Radiologist: A doctor who received extra training in interpreting medical images and in performing different procedures using imaging technology specifically for treating brain and nervous system disorders
- Nurse practitioners (NPs)
- Physician assistants (PAs)
- Nutritionists or dietitians
- Primary care doctors
- Physical therapists, who help with mobility, strength, balance, and flexibility
- Occupational therapists, who help keep people functioning well in the home and at work
- Speech-language therapists, who help with speech, language, and understanding
This list is not all-inclusive.
Society of Neuroscience. What is Neuroscience? Accessed March 16, 2010.
Society of Neurointerventional Surgery. What is Interventional Neuroradiology? Accessed March 22, 2010.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Neurological Diagnostic Tests and Procedures. Updated December 18, 2009. Accessed March 22, 2010.
Reviewed By: Daniel B. Hoch, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.