A neurologist is a doctor who treats issues affecting the brain, spinal cord, and nervous system. Two specific areas of treatment that neurologists treat are chronic pain and sleep disorders.
Neurologists not only identify and manage devastating muscular disorders like MS; they also provide a safe and effective treatment for chronic pain.
Pain is relayed to the brain via the nervous system, which identifies a foreign stimulus and translates the degree of injury into pain. The spinal cord hosts a nerve bundle that sends the pain message to the brain in seconds.
With chronic pain, these messages sometimes don’t stop when the injury healed. Long-term conditions, such as arthritis, are believed to be a contributing factor for the continued pain messages because the pathways may be damaged. This is thought to cause an excessive stimulus to the pain center and create a memory. Even though there is no current injury, the pain response feels the same.
Whether the pain is long or short term or is a result of trauma or unknown causes, a neurologist is often the best bet for limiting suffering. Based on medical history, physical impairments, and pain sites, the neurologist may order a series of tests to determine the actual cause and pathway of the pain. Once diagnosed, the treatment plan is discussed and set in motion.
In addition to pain control, a neurologist can help with sleep disorders. There are many of these disorders with a variety of causes. Here are some of the more common sleep disorders that can be addressed by a neurologist:
Sleep Apnea – Sleep apnea is a common disorder that has the potential of causing serious health problems if not corrected. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the tissues in the throat collapse or the tongue falls back in the throat preventing proper breathing to take place. However, there is another form known as central sleep apnea, which occurs when the brain doesn’t send the message for the respiratory muscles to do their work. The long-term effects can be serious, including heart attacks, an enlarged heart, and/or heart failure, strokes, and headaches.
Narcolepsy – Narcolepsy is another sleep disorder with significant repercussions. This condition is often found to be a neurological problem, though not all cases are the same. Some patients experience paralysis when they first wake and are unable to move their extremities. Other patients have fallen asleep while working or even driving a car.
Insomnia – Insomnia is a sleep disorder that could make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. Comorbid insomnia is the inability to sleep due to other conditions such as depression or chronic pain.
Proper diagnosis is crucial to treating and controlling these disorders. Sleep studies may be required to determine the oxygen levels and brain waves during sleep. An EEG will test the electrical activity while sleeping or experiencing sleep apnea. In addition, genetic history and testing may be suggested to identify underlying health issues causing the sleep disorder.
Once the diagnosis is made, treatment begins and the suffering lessens or is eliminated. Seeking the help of a neurologist early in the disease or disorder will limit the damage caused by unknown conditions. It may be as simple as a diet change or medication to alter patterns and restore a normal restful night’s sleep.