How a Neurologist Can Keep You Out of Trouble in 2021.
Medically reviewed and written by Ashwin Malhotra, M.D. — March 1st, 2021
The most generic answer: a Neurologist is a physician for the brain. This is correct, but there is so much more.
Neurology: Expectations vs. Reality.
Not all Neurologists are the same. Similar to Primary Care Physicians/Internal Medicine Doctors (PCPs or Internists), that are trained in Internal Medicine overall, Neurologists are Doctors trained in Neurology overall. By anatomy or organ system, this includes the brain, the spine, the nerves, the muscles, and so on, together known as the nervous system.
Again, similar to Internal Medicine, where certain doctors are experts of the heart, such as Cardiologists, or experts of the kidney, such as nephrologists, there are sub-specialties within Neurology. There are Neurologists who are experts in muscle and nerve diseases (e.g. Neuromuscular Neurologists), experts in seizures (e.g. Epileptologists), experts in nervous system cancers, such as brain tumors (e.g. Neuro-oncologists), experts in balance disorders (Neuro-otologists), and many others.
In other words, Neurology is a very large branch of medicine with many subspecialists, similar to internal medicine with its many subspecialties. This is a result of our constant discovery and improved understanding of Neurology.
When Should I See a Neurologist?
In 2021, I believe everyone can benefit from seeing a Neurologist, just exactly what kind is the key variable and for you to determine. For example, if you have had a physical injury, (i.e., a car accident or a fall), you will at some point have a consultation with a Neuromuscular Neurologist to evaluate the severity of your injuries to your nervous system and to speculate on the level of recovery possible with therapy and treatment.
In the same vein, if you a healthy individual or even a high performing individual, seeing a Neurologist can help you appreciate brain aging and learn true neurophysiology to potentially prevent neurologic disease before it happens. Most importantly, seeing a Neurologist for Preventative Neurology can help you learn how to take the proper steps to preserve your health and wellness for longevity early in your life.
Neurology: The Next Big Thing?
Yes. Over 30 years ago, Neurology itself was a part of Internal Medicine. To become a Neurologist, one would become an Internal Medicine Doctor, and then do Neurology. Now, one does 1 year of Internal Medicine (e.g., Intern Year) and then 3 years of Neurology, to become a Neurologist. After this, there is 1-3 years of Fellowship, which is becoming a subspecialist in a certain area of Neurology. The growth of Neurology is driven by continued development of new technologies, treatments, and interventions, all based in robust research. And given there are so many unanswered questions and diseases left without therapies, I believe, Neurology is the next big thing.
Neurology, Neurologists, and COVID-19.
In the last year, many neurological complications of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, such as encephalitis (brain infection/confusion), ischemic stroke, and acute inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (AIDP, an autoimmune disease of the peripheral nervous system) appeared. Neurologists across the board rushed to report and manage these complications. And even now, the full spectrum of neurological complications of COVID-19 and risk factors have not been well described. The value Neurologists are adding and have added to battling the COVID-19 pandemic is unmatched, and this not just the Neuroinfectious disease specialists. Stroke Neurologists have worked to characterize the type of strokes seen in COVID-19 infection and how to mitigate that risk, Neuroimmunologists faced the challenge of caring for immunosuppressed patients in face of a raging infectious disease, as well as made difficult decisions about giving vs. holding vaccinations. Simply put, the role of the Neurologist has never been so versatile, far-reaching, and demanding.