Overview of a pediatric neurologist
A child neurologist, or pediatric neurologist, is a doctor who treats children problems with the nervous system. Problems with the nervous system begin in the brain, spine, nerves, or muscles. These can lead to problems such as seizures, headaches, or developmental delay.
If the child has problems with the nervous system, the pediatric neurologist will have specialized training and knowledge to evaluate, diagnose, and treat the child. The conditions faced by pediatric neurologists can vary significantly from relatively common disorders like migraine or cerebral palsy to complex and rare conditions like metabolic diseases or neurodegenerative disorders.
Who should contact the pediatric neurologist?
A paediatrician or family doctor can monitor the general health of your child’s brain and nervous system and manage certain conditions, such as the occasional headache. Most children see a pediatric neurologist for the first time when their primary care physician finds or suspects a more complex disease or condition of the brain or nervous system, often with headaches, seizures, or cerebral palsy. Children are also referred to as pediatric neurologists to further evaluate symptoms and risk factors for serious conditions, such as learning delays or concussions.
What training do child neurologists have?
Child neurologists are medical doctors who have completed (in order):
- Four years of medical school
- At least 1 to 2 years of general paediatrics internship/residency.
- Three years of residency training in child neurology, which includes one year of training in adult neurology.
- Some child neurologists complete an additional 1-2 years of training called a fellowship, where they learn a sub-speciality within neurology, such as epilepsy, neuromuscular disease, or genetics.
What type of conditions does a pediatric neurologist treat?
- Chiari disability: A disorder in which the brain extends beyond the skull into the spinal canal. He or she does not always have symptoms and needs to be monitored. This condition sometimes requires surgery.
- Epilepsy: Epilepsy causes involuntary muscle pain or contractions and strange behaviours or sensations. The child may pass out or lose consciousness during detention. Paediatricians treat epilepsy with medications and, in severe cases, with surgery.
- Hydrocephalus: A rare condition caused by abnormal formation of fluid deep in the brain. Surgeons treat hydrocephalus by draining excess fluid through a hose.
- Movement Disorders: Conditions that cause involuntary movements or interfere with voluntary movements. The treatment or management of these disorders depends on their root cause.
- Spina bifida: Spina bifida occurs at birth when the spine develops abnormally.
- Traumatic Brain Injury: Brain problems due to violent blows to the head, often related to sports in children. Your pediatric neurologist may recommend rest, medication, or surgery as treatment.
What are the diagnostic tests done by a pediatric neurologist?
Child neurologists often make a diagnosis by observing your child’s symptoms, medical history, and physical exam, but sometimes more tests are needed to make a diagnosis.
Routine tests prescribed by pediatric neurologists:
- An EEG (electroencephalogram) is a test that looks at problems with electrical activity in your brain. This test can be used to look for seizures and to make sure that your child’s brain is producing the type of electrical activity expected for his or her age.
- Magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography are imaging tests that are used to take pictures of the brain and/or spine. These include signs of a brain tumour, stroke, infection, multiple sclerosis, certain genetic conditions, and more.
- Pelvic puncture (lumbar puncture) is a test in which the doctor inserts a small needle into the lower back to take a sample of the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.
- Blood tests may be ordered for your child. These may include basic labs checking for electrolyte changes or signs of infection, or more complicated testing such as genetic tests for specific disorders.
What kind of treatments does a pediatric neurologist perform?
Pediatric neurologists prescribe or perform a variety of procedures and treatments. First aid medications used by pediatric neurologists. Pediatric neurologists do not do surgery on the brain or nervous system but are trained in specific procedures. A doctor who specializes in neurosurgery performs surgery on the brain and nervous system. General procedures:
- Cerebral angiography is a type of x-ray with a contrast agent (dye) to show how blood flows through the arteries in the brain. This procedure is usually performed by a pediatric neurologist who specializes in vascular neurology.
- Pelvic puncture, also known as a lumbar puncture, is used to detect infections and diagnose multiple sclerosis in other conditions. A pelvic puncture can also be used to inject certain medications directly into the spine.
- Biopsy of the nervous system to detect cancer and other diseases (tissue sampling).
- Treatments for seizures, including vagus nerve stimulation and the ketogenic diet (high-fat and low-carbohydrate).