Most diagnostic testing begins with an analysis of blood, urine or other fluids, such as bone marrow and spinal fluid. These tests not only help to diagnose disease, but can also assist in monitoring overall health and the effectiveness of drugs throughout the treatment process.
An angiography is a type of x-ray which uses a special dye (called a contrast) inserted through a tube into your body to track how your blood moves through veins and arteries. If there is a blockage, this dye allows your neurologist to see its size and position so that a treatment plan may be established.
Like an angiography, a carotid duplex or carotid ultrasound allows your neurologist or neurosurgeon to evaluate how well blood is flowing in the carotid arteries, located in your neck. Unlike an angiography, however, no contrast is used.
Computer Tomography (CT) Scans
Often referred to as "CAT" scans, CT scans allow physicians to see your body's organs, tissues and bones with greater clarity than traditional x-rays. Depending on the type of test being performed, a contrast medium (a special type of dye) may be administered to improve image quality.
If your neurologist suspects your symptoms are caused by damage to a spinal disc, a discogram may be ordered. During this procedure, a contrast material is injected into the discs in the spine, after which x-rays are taken. The images generated during this procedure will often show any type of wear or damage that may be the underlying source of pain or other symptoms.
Your neurologist may use an EEG, which uses metal discs gently attached to your scalp, to measure your brain's activity. This noninvasive test is effective in diagnosing seizures, brain diseases and tumors.
If your symptoms include weakness or impaired muscle strength, EMG testing may be ordered. During this minimally invasive procedure, a thin electrode is inserted through the skin into the muscle. The electrical activity of that muscle can then be evaluated.
Evoked Potential (EP)
Using two sets of electrodes, EP testing is used to assess any sensory nerve problems you may be experiencing and help confirm certain types of neurologic conditions like multiple sclerosis.
Lumbar Puncture (Spinal Tap)
A lumbar puncture, or spinal tap, is an invaluable tool in helping your neurologist diagnose or rule out certain types of infections, malignancies and diseases. During this outpatient procedure, your lower back is numbed and then a small needle is inserted into the spine. A small amount of the cerebrospinal fluid which surrounds the brain and spinal cord is then collected for testing.
Magnetic Resonance Angiography
Magnetic Resonance Angiography, or MRA, utilizes MRI technology to examine the blood vessels throughout your body. As with other imaging tests, MRA allows your neurologist to evaluate potential disease, blockages or damage in and around those vessels.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
Using magnetic fields and computer technology, an MRI produces three-dimensional images of your body's anatomy. It is particularly helpful to diagnose diseases of the brain and its stem, the spine, the spinal cord and the spinal nerves.
Often used by neurologists to detect or evaluate spinal abnormalities a myelogram (myelography) uses a dye or contrast injected into the fluid-filled space around the spinal cord. X-rays are then taken, which will then assist your neurologist in determining the underlying cause of your symptoms, such as spinal stenosis or herniated disc.
Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scans
For some patients, PET scans of the brain can help your neurologist evaluate how blood is flowing to and from your brain, detect tumors and see any changes or injuries to your brain.
Single Photon Emission Computer Tomography (SPECT)
Like PET scans, SPECT scans combine a CT scan and the use of safe, radioactive materials injected into your blood stream to create 2-D and 3-D images of the tissue through which it flows. Your neurologist may order this test to diagnose brain tumors, spinal disease and other conditions.