7 Symptoms that Mean It's Time to Visit a Neurologist

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When should you feel “nervous” about your nervous system? It depends on the frequency and severity of your symptoms. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) reported approximately 14 million neurologist visits in the United States in 2010. Moreover, 60 percent of these appointments were for people between the ages of 25 and 64.

What is a Neurologist?

Neurologists specialize in the treatment of disorders that affect the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. A neurologist typically treats conditions such as epilepsy (seizure disorder), Alzheimer's, migraines or stroke. Keep reading to learn some of the common reasons you may be referred to a neurologist. 

Why Could I be Referred to a Neurologist?

1. Headaches or Migraines

Headaches are a pain. They can cause throbbing or dull sensations throughout the sinuses, top of the head, along the base of the skull, and into the neck and shoulders. An occasional headache from time to time is considered normal, but more frequent headaches accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light may actually be migraines. 

What is a Migraine?

The National Headache Foundation estimates that over 37 million Americans experience migraines. A migraine occurs when hyperactive nerve cells send impulses to blood vessels. These blood vessels then constrict, resulting in the release of substances that cause severe pain and discomfort. Migraines differ from a typical headache because they last much longer, come with debilitating pain and are often accompanied by other symptoms such as light-sensitivity, nausea, vomiting or numbness. Migraines can last from a few hours to several days, depending on the individual and the circumstance.

What Triggers Migraines?

It is difficult to pinpoint what exactly causes migraines. Research shows, however, that migraines are connected to both genetics and fluctuations in the brain. External factors that may bring on migraines include:

  • Emotional stress
  • Sensitivity to certain chemicals in food
  • Caffeine
  • Changes in weather
  • Menstrual cycles
  • Exhaustion
  • Hunger
  • Changes in sleeping pattern

Journaling about your migraines can help your doctor provide you with the best treatment possible. Record what time your migraine begins and ends, the location, type, and intensity of the pain, your stress level and what you ate beforehand.

2. Dizziness

Feeling lightheaded is a normal sensation people experience from time to time; chronic dizziness is not. Dizziness can be separated into three types:

  • Presyncope: Feeling like you’re going to faint. Symptoms include lightheadedness, fuzzy hearing, loss of vision, and nausea
  • Vertigo: Feeling like you’re moving, even when you’re not. Movement is often described as spinning or swaying
  • Dissociation: A spaced out feeling. Feeling as if you are detached from either your body or your surroundings

3. Blackouts

A blackout is often compared to a trance, in which you do not realize what is happening. Blackouts are caused by a brief glitch in the nervous system, and frequent ones require medical attention as soon as possible. People suffer from two forms of blackouts:

  • With movement: Person thrashes around and looks as though he or she is having a seizure
  • Without movement: Person falls and remains motionless and unresponsive

Blackouts can occur in several different situations:

  • Randomly
  • While resting
  • When hyperventilating
  • When you feel disconnected from your body or surroundings

4. Tremors

A tremor is an unwanted quivering feeling in one or more parts of the body. Tremors can occur in the arms, legs, head, vocal cords and torso. They are caused by a malfunction in the brain that controls the muscles of the body. If you suffer from frequent tremors, call your doctor and schedule an appointment immediately.

5. Pain or Numbness

Continual pain and numbness in the body are signs of sensory nerve damage. Sensory nerves send information from your skin and muscles back to your spinal cord and brain. The information is then processed in the brain, allowing you to feel pain or numbness. Identifying abnormal and recurring pain and numbness is critical in preventing you from developing serious medical conditions like cancer and autoimmune diseases.

6. Loss of Grip

Pain or numbness in the hands can lead to loss of grip, which can result in carpal tunnel syndrome. This occurs when the median nerve, the one from the forearm to the palm of the hand, is pressured at the wrist. People who suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome feel pain, tingling and a loss of sensation in their hands. Carpal tunnel syndrome develops gradually, but early detection and treatment are imperative in preventing permanent damage to your median nerve.

7. Shuffling

Shuffling while walking is considered atypical and should be addressed by a medical professional sooner rather than later. Moreover, shuffling is a symptom of Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological disorder that develops due to the breakdown of neurons in a part of the brain that controls movement.

Find a Neurologist

While these seven symptoms warrant a visit to the neurologist, frequency and severity of each should be taken into consideration. Contact your provider any time you notice new symptoms or sudden changes that are abnormal for you, such as a new weird feeling in your head that comes and goes, sudden changes in frequency of déjà vu or other abnormal symptoms. Understanding the difference between typical and atypical symptoms can help you and your primary care provider decide whether a trip to a neurologist is right for you.

Neurologists at UnityPoint Health are committed to providing you with the care you deserve. Schedule an appointment today with one of our neurologists