What is Pediatric Neurology?
The nervous system is made up of the brain, spinal column, nerves, and muscles. It is what allows our brain and body to communicate with each other. Disorders of the nervous system are treated by a neurologist. When these disorders affect children or teens, they are treated by a pediatric or child neurologist.
Child neurologists have a special understanding of how the nervous system functions in a child’s growing body. Some neurological illnesses are rarely seen in adults, and others have symptoms that are different in children than in adults. Children’s developing brains and bodies can change quickly, and a pediatric neurologist is trained to quickly evaluate and manage symptoms before they cause future problems.
There is a very wide variety of disorders in pediatric neurology. Some issues, like seizures, are quite common, while others are very rare. A few examples of the problems treated by a child neurologist include:
Seizures and epilepsy
Migraines and other headaches
Neurological disorders that cause physical disabilities, including cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and muscular dystrophy
Developmental movement disorders, such as motor delays or low coordination
Hydrocephalus, or fluid in the brain
Social and behavioral disorders that originate in the brain, such as ADHD and autism (many, but not all pediatric neurologists offer this service)
To figure out what is happening in a patient’s nervous system, pediatric neurologists make frequent use of brain scans. These may be CT scans (computed tomography, which uses x-rays), MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging, done with radio waves and magnets), or PET scans (positron emission tomography, which uses small amounts of radioactive material). In addition, child neurologists may use:
EEG (electroencephalogram, a test to measure electrical activity in the brain)
EMG (electromyography, tests to measure how well nerves and muscles work)
Developmental screening tests
Hearing and vision tests
It can be incredibly difficult for parents when their child is hurting or isn’t able to do things that other kids their age can do. A pediatric neurologist is a great resource to help kids with neurological disorders reach their full potential.
What is Neuropsychology?
Neuropsychology is a subspecialty of psychology that is concerned with how well the brain is functioning. It looks at how the physical structure of the brain and nervous system influence our thoughts and behavior. Neuropsychologists consult with other physicians to treat many kinds of neurological, psychiatric, and other medical conditions, including:
Traumatic brain injury
Developmental disorders affecting the brain
Neurological effects of medical conditions or treatments
Patients may be referred to a neuropsychologist if they are experiencing any significant changes in:
Organization, reasoning, or logic
Typically a consultation with a neuropsychologist consists of an interview and some testing to evaluate brain function. The interview asks about symptoms that you may have been experiencing. The tests are done either with pencil and paper or on a computer, and they are simple memory or thinking skills games. They may take more than an hour to complete. How you answer the test portion gives the neuropsychologist a great deal of information about the functioning, strengths, and weaknesses of each area of your brain. This information can be used to make a diagnosis or help guide a treatment plan for the future.
Neurology is the study of the brain and nervous system, including the spinal cord and nerves. Disorders of the nervous system can affect many parts of the body, and a neurological exam must be quite thorough. A neurologist examining a new patient will check for any issues with:
motor skills (the way your brain and muscles work together)
sensory skills (sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell)
coordination and balance
changes in mood or behavior
A neurologist can order different kinds of tests to check the function of the brain and nerves. These tests may include a head CT scan (a type of 3-dimensional x-ray), an electroencephalogram (which measures the electrical impulses inside the brain), an MRI (a detailed image of the brain or spinal cord), or electromyography (which uses electricity to test nerve function). The results of the exam and the tests help neurologists diagnose and form treatment plans for disorders like multiple sclerosis, tremors, stroke, and migraine headaches.
Some neurological problems, such as certain brain tumors, may require surgical treatment. Since neurologists do not perform surgery, they will refer patients who need operations to a surgical subspecialist, such as a neurosurgeon. Beyond surgery, a neurologist might recommend any of the following treatments:
medication (such as interferon for MS or topiramate for migraines)
laser therapy (class IV laser treatment is sometimes used to alleviate peripheral neuropathy pain)
physical therapy (stretches and exercises can increase balance and range of motion, helping patients to move more easily and with less pain)
Therapies such as these can improve quality of life for patients dealing with neurological disorders. Neurologists help their patients sense and interact with the world at their very best.
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