Neurologists vs. Neuropsychologists

When you hear the terms neurology and neuropsychology, they may sound so close that determining the difference can be confusing. While there’s an intersection between some of the conditions treated by these specialties, each focuses on different aspects.

What Is a Neurologist?

Neurologist

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A neurologist is a specialized doctor (an M.D. or D.O.) that focuses on diagnosing and treating neurological disorders. A neurologist must complete medical school and do four years of residency in their field to specialize in neurology. Neurological disorders are diseases that can affect any of the following bodily systems: the muscles, nerves, spinal cord, and brain.

What Conditions Does a Neurologist Treat?

Neurologists treat diseases of the spinal cord, peripheral nerves, muscles, and brain. Neurological conditions that neurologists treat include multiple sclerosis, stroke, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s disease. Many neurologists continue to seek more training to deepen their expertise in particular conditions, such as epilepsy, headaches, migraine, and sleep disorders, or to work with special populations, such as geriatrics or pediatrics.

What Do Neurologists Do?

Neurology focuses on assessing, diagnosing, and treating disorders of the nervous system. They may be called upon to treat migraines, chronic headaches, sleep disorders, or other neurological disorders, such as epilepsy or MS. They focus on the intervention and treatment of neurological disorders, primarily with medication.

Neurologists may also treat people who have brain damage, such as someone who has been in a car accident or suffered head trauma. They use various methods to test and diagnose a patient to evaluate someone’s condition. They will observe and measure different aspects of an illness or injury. They may employ additional tests using MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging, or called NMRI, for nuclear magnetic resonance imaging) to determine the underlying factors contributing to the patient’s symptoms.

Many symptoms may arise from different neurological disorders; some might include tremors, problems with balance, confusion, fainting, dizziness, and pain.

What Is a Neuropsychologist?

A neuropsychologist is a specialized psychologist who focuses on neurological disorders and diseases. A neuropsychologist must complete a four-year doctoral program (Ph.D. or Psy.D.), a one-year post-doctoral internship, and a two-year fellowship. This fellowship is also known as a post-doctoral training program or residency. A neuropsychologist’s education and training focus on the brain’s interaction and behavior in medical disorders.

Neuropsychologists treat neurological conditions that can affect behavior, personality, and mood, including MS, epilepsy, dementia, movement disorders, and brain injuries caused by a tumor, concussion, or stroke.

What Is the Difference Between Neurologists and Neuropsychologists?

In the simplest terms, a neurologist treats the physical component of a nervous system disorder or an injury to the nervous system, and a neuropsychiatrist treats the mental symptoms associated with a nervous system injury or disorder. Here’s a more thorough breakdown of how the division of these two specializations works.

Neurologists focus on treating physical symptoms and causes of brain disorders, often using medication. In contrast, neuropsychologists treat the mental, cognitive, and behavioral issues of brain disorders without medication. Neuropsychologists perform evaluations and administer tests to pinpoint a specific treatment plan based on the individual concerns and needs of the patient. Both specialists could treat a patient for different aspects of the same disorder. The neurologist would focus on treating the medical aspects, while the neuropsychologist would concentrate on treating the psychological side effects of the disorder.

Which Specialist Is Better at Treating Concussions?

In the case of a concussion, a neuropsychologist is the better choice of doctor. A concussion is a complex injury involving a host of symptoms, ranging from cognitive difficulties, sleep issues, physical problems, and psychological disorders. A neuropsychologist is considered the best specialist to treat the array of symptoms that may present with a concussion due to the nature of the injury.

Even though neurologists may have the qualifications to deal with some aspects of the injury, the combination of symptoms found in people with concussions is more suitable to be treated by a neuropsychologist. The neuropsychology specialty is better equipped to fully grasp the interplay of the physiologic and psychological components underlying concussive injuries.

In addition, the medications that tend to be prescribed by neurologists for concussions have the unfortunate side effect of worsening the existing presenting symptoms of the patient. Moreover, if you seek a treatment plan that doesn’t include medications, seeing a neuropsychologist is your best bet. The symptoms of your concussion also need to be targeted and specific to your symptoms, as well as the areas that you wish to improve.

Understanding the Similarities and Differences Between the Two Specialists

To help you better understand, here’s a quick breakdown of the similarities and differences:

  • Both neurologists and neuropsychologists are physicians.
  • Their academic training begins similarly in medical school. However, they each follow different, though related, paths during their subsequent residence training.
  • Both specialists are focused on the diagnosis and treatment of the nervous system, which includes the spinal cord, the brain, and peripheral nerves.
  • A neurologist focuses on diagnosing and treating the physical symptoms of a nervous system disease or an injury affecting the nervous system, including pain, memory, movement, the senses, and intellectual capacities.
  • The neuropsychologist focuses on diagnosing and treating the mental aspects of a nervous system disease or related injury. The psychological component refers to emotions, thoughts, moods, and beliefs.
  • The neurologist will pay close attention to other physical diseases that interact with a nervous system disorder. For instance, in the case of a patient with Parkinson’s disease, a neurologist will ascertain whether the patient may have diabetes mellitus, infectious diseases, immunological diseases, high blood pressure, or injuries.
  • The neuropsychologist is also focused on the progression of mental functions throughout the patient’s lifespan. They will take into account the current status of the patient’s personality, work-related aspects, and social and interpersonal relationships.
  • Both physicians will request additional tests, including any of the following: magnetic resonance imaging, tomography, blood chemistry, and an electroencephalogram.
  • In addition to such tests, a neuropsychological assessment will include psychological tests.

If you’re interested in learning more about neurology or neuropsychology and how each specialty may benefit you and the treatment of any disease or disorder affecting you or a loved one, reach out to the experts at NeuroHealth Arlington Heights. You can reach us at 847-499-1604 or via our secure online contact form. A team member will be happy to answer any questions you may have or get you set up for a consultation.