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Neurological Diagnostic Tests and Procedures


The Neurology Department at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital has a large arsenal of tools to diagnose neurological diseases. This includes:

Laboratory screening tests of blood, urine, or other substances are used to help diagnose disease, better understand the disease process, and monitor levels of therapeutic drugs.

A neurological examination assesses motor and sensory skills, the functioning of one or more cranial nerves, hearing and speech, vision, coordination and balance, mental status, and changes in mood or behavior, among other abilities.

X-rays of the patient’s chest and skull are often taken as part of a neurological work-up. X-rays can be used to view any part of the body, such as a joint or major organ system. In a conventional x-ray, also called a radiograph, a technician passes a concentrated burst of low-dose ionized radiation through the body and onto a photographic plate.

What are some diagnostic tests used to diagnose neurological disorders?

Based on the result of a neurological exam, physical exam, patient history, x-rays of the patient’s chest and skull, and any previous screening or testing, physicians may order one or more of the following diagnostic tests to determine the specific nature of a suspected neurological disorder or injury:

Angiography: Used to detect blockages or narrowing in arteries or veins.

Brain scans: Imaging techniques used to diagnose tumors, blood vessel malformations, or hemorrhage in the brain. Types of brain scans include computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, and positron emission tomography.

Cerobrospinal fluid analysis: Involves removal of a small amount of the fluid that protects the brain and spinal cord to detect any bleeding or brain hemorrhage, diagnose infection to the brain and/or spinal cord, identify some cases of multiple sclerosis and other neurological conditions, and measure intracranial pressure.

Computed tomography (CT scan): A noninvasive, painless process used to produce rapid, clear two-dimensional images of organs, bones and tissues. Neurological CT scans are used to view the brain and spine, and can detect bone and vascular irregularities, certain brain tumors and cysts, herniated discs, epilepsy, encephalitis, spinal stenosis, a blood clot or intracranial bleeding in patients with stroke, brain damage from head injury, and other disorders.

Echocardiogram: An imaging test that helps show the size of the heart and health of its chambers and valves.

Electrocardiograph (ECG/EKG): A test that records electrical signals from the heart onto a paper strip. It helps the physician determine whether the heart is normal, under stress, or experiencing electrical problems, strain or damage.

Electroencephalography (EEG): Monitors brain activity through the skull. Helps diagnose certain seizure disorders, brain tumors, brain damage from head injuries, inflammation of the brain and/or spinal cord, alcoholism, certain psychiatric disorders, and metabolic and degenerative disorders that affect the brain. Also used to evaluate sleep disorders, monitor brain activity when a patient has been fully anesthetized or loses consciousness, and confirm brain death.

Electromyography (EMG): Used to diagnose nerve and muscle dysfunction and spinal cord disease by recording the electrical activity from the brain and/or spinal cord to a peripheral nerve root that controls muscles during contraction and at rest.

Electronystagmography (ENG): A group of tests used to diagnose involuntary eye movement, dizziness and balance disorders, to evaluate some brain functions.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Uses computer-generated radio waves and a powerful magnetic field to produce detailed images of body structures, including tissues, organs, bones and nerves. Neurological uses include the diagnosis of brain and spinal cord tumors, eye disease, inflammation, infection, and vascular irregularities that may lead to stroke. MRI can also detect and monitor degenerative disorders such as multiple sclerosis and to document brain injury from trauma.

Transesophageal echocardiography (TEE): Allows physicians to record images of the heart from inside the patient’s esophagus/food pipe to identify and treat problems such as infection, disease, or defects to the heart’s walls or valves.

Ultrasound imaging: Also known as ultrasound scanning or sonography, it uses high-frequency sound waves to obtain images inside the body. Neurosonography (ultrasound of the brain and spinal cord) analyzes blood flow in the brain and can diagnose stroke, brain tumors, hydrocephalus, and vascular problems. It can also identify or rule out inflammatory processes causing pain.

Transcranial Doppler ultrasound is used to view arteries and blood vessels in the neck and determine blood flow and risk of stroke.