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What Does a Brain Specialist Do?

By Nicole Etolen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A brain specialist, more commonly called a neurologist, is a type of doctor who specializes in diseases and injuries involving the brain and nervous system. Conditions treated by these specialists include brain lesions and tumors, degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and injuries that occur from external forces, such as car accidents of falls. While all brain specialists are trained in diagnosing and treating disorders with medicine, some go on to become neurosurgeons and specialize in the surgical aspects of the field.

The human brain is essentially the control center for the entire body, and even the slightest damage to certain regions can result in severe consequences, such as paralysis or death. Examples of less extreme results caused by injury to the brain include temporary or permanent loss of hearing, vision, speech, and long-term or short-term memory. The brain specialist is trained to look at a set of symptoms and determine which part of the brain may be damaged. From there, they use different tools to diagnose the damage and formulate a treatment plan.

Diagnosing brain conditions usually requires using a medical imaging device, most commonly either a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine or a computed axial tomography (CAT) scan. These devices allow brain specialists to get a closer look at the inside of the brain and evaluate its function. They also allow specialists to note any abnormal masses, such as lesions or blood clots. Other tests include an electroencephalogram to measure brainwave activity, and the lumbar puncture — commonly referred to as a spinal tap — which tests the fluid of the spine for bacteria and other abnormalities.

Once a brain specialist determines the source of the problem, the next step is determining the course of treatment. Certain conditions, such as bacterial encephalitis, or swelling of the brain as a result of an infection, can be treated with antibiotics and other medications. Many degenerative brain diseases have no cure, but their progression can be slowed and some of the symptoms alleviated through medicine and therapy. Brain surgery is usually used as a last resort because it is a risky procedure.

Becoming a brain specialist requires years of medical training, beginning with an undergraduate degree in premedical training. Once the basic education is complete, students usually attend a medical program, followed by a certain amount of time as an intern, and several years as a resident. After meeting all education requirements, students take an exam to become board-certified neurologists. Most brain specialists must continue taking advanced classes throughout their careers to keep up with changes in the field.

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