Neurologist – a physician specializing in diseases of the brain, spinal cord and nerves. He/she may refer a patient to a neurosurgeon. Neurologists do not do surgery.
Lumbar (spinal) puncture or tap (LP) – introducing a needle between the lower bony vertebrae of our spinal column allows a physician to sample the fluid, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Lab tests on the fluid are used for diagnostic purposes such as presence of bacteria in meningitis, special proteins in multiple sclerosis, or blood cells.
Brain scan – introducing a radioactive element into the blood can image possible tumors in the brain. The radioactive dose is very low and detectable only with special, very sensitive instruments that are much more sophisticated than the old Geiger counters.
Electroencephalography (EEG) – Wow, what a mouthful, but take it apart. Starting at the end of the word: an image (in this case a written recording) of the brain’s electrical activity. EEGs are used to diagnose different types of seizure disorders such as epilepsy, brain tumors, and are used in sleep research to identify stages of sleep.
Computed tomography (CT) – a specialized X-ray machine that takes multiple images of a body area from different angles and has a computer that integrates the multiple images into “slices” of the body. The resolution is much better than standard X-rays and there is better differentiation of types of tissue (bone, air, solid organ).
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – Although the image produces the “slices” through the body seen by CT (see above), no X-rays are involved. The patient’s body is placed in a strong magnetic field. Radio pulses affect the resonance or “spin” of atoms in the tissues. A computer analyzes this information to show subtle differences in tissue molecular structure producing very high resolution and better differentiation of soft tissue, such as a tumor within the liver.