Clinical Neurophysiologist: Your Expert in Nervous System Disorders

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS

What is a neurophysiologist?

A clinical neurophysiologist is a neurologist who specializes in the diagnosis of nervous system disorders. Neurophysiologists perform EEG (electroencephalography), EMG (electromyography), and other procedures to evaluate the function of the brain and nervous system. They consult with the patient’s care team to guide treatment for such conditions as seizures, sleep problems, and Parkinson’s disease.

A clinical neurophysiologist typically:

  • Evaluates a patient’s symptoms and medical history

  • Performs a physical exam including evaluation of blood pressure and vital signs and the health of the brain and nervous system  

  • Orders and interprets specialized tests of the nervous system as well as general health tests

  • Diagnoses and monitors acute and chronic diseases and conditions that affect the brain and nervous system including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and seizures

  • Assists with specialized procedures on the nervous system, such as deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s disease

  • Works closely with your primary care doctor and other specialists and members of your healthcare team to provide optimal care

Neurophysiology is a subspecialty of neurology. Clinical neurophysiologists may also be known by the following names: neurophysiologist, neurologist, brain doctor, brain specialist, and nerve doctor. 

Who should see a clinical neurophysiologist?

Your primary care doctor can manage certain neurologic conditions, such as well-controlled migraines and minor sleep problems. Many people see a neurophysiologist when their primary care doctor finds or suspects a more complex disease or condition of the brain or nervous system, such as seizures or multiple sclerosis.

Seeing a neurophysiologist for early evaluation and diagnosis before more serious brain or nerve problems occur is the best way to reduce the risk of permanent damage, disability, and other complications. If you need an expert in brain and nervous system disorders, set up an appointment with an experienced neurophysiologist near you.  

When should you see a clinical neurophysiologist?

Your doctor may recommend you see a neurophysiologist for specialized tests and procedures if you have any of the following symptoms or conditions: 

  • Ongoing headaches, weakness, dizziness or vertigo that does not get better with treatments from your primary care doctor

  • Numbness, tingling, or trouble moving any part of the body

  • Seizures

  • Problems with sleeping

You should also seek care from a neurophysiologist under the following situations:

  • You have symptoms your doctor believes to be caused by a brain or nervous system problem, such as problems with memory, speech, decision making, balance, coordination, or muscle control.

  • You have a brain or nervous system condition or disease that requires ongoing monitoring and specialized care, such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis.

What does a clinical neurophysiologist treat?

A neurophysiologist diagnoses and helps develop a treatment plan for conditions that involve the health of the brain and nervous system. Conditions include:

  • Difficulties with memory and attention including early dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and attention deficit brain disorder

  • Epilepsy and other seizure disorders

  • Headaches including migraine and cluster headaches

  • Movement disorders including Parkinson’s disease, tremor, and dystonia

  • Neuromuscular conditions that affect the muscles and nerves including multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease), and muscular dystrophies

  • Sleep disorders including sleep apnea, insomnia, and narcolepsy

  • Vascular conditions including stroke and transient ischemic attack (TIA, or “mini-stroke”) 

What does a clinical neurophysiologist test?

Neurophysiologists focus on performing and interpreting the following specialized tests:

  • Autonomic function testing to test such body functions as blood pressure, heart rate, bladder control, and sexual function

  • EEG (electroencephalogram) to evaluate seizures, fainting, or blacking out

  • EMG (electromyogram) to evaluate pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in the muscles or nerves

  • Evoked potentials to evaluate dizziness, numbness, tingling, and visual disorders

  • Nerve conduction studies to measure the electrical activity of muscles

  • Sleep studies to record brain wave activity during sleep and diagnose specific causes of sleep problems

What procedures and treatments does a clinical neurophysiologist do?

A neurophysiologist is a neurologist and does not perform surgery. However, neurophysiologists are involved with various procedures including:

  • Deep brain stimulation to help the brain control body movements in diseases such as Parkinson’s disease

  • Intraoperative monitoring including evoked potentials during brain surgery and other nervous system operations. A neurophysiologist will interpret evoked potentials to ensure that critical brain and nervous system functions are not damaged during surgery.

Neurophysiologist training and certification

If you need an expert in brain and nervous system disorders, look for a neurologist who is board certified in clinical neurophysiology or neurophysiology. Board certification verifies the doctor completed residency training in the specialty and has passed competency examinations.

The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the American Board of Clinical Neurophysiology, and the American Osteopathic Board of Neurology and Psychiatry certify eligible doctors in neurophysiology.

To maintain board certification, a doctor must participate in an ongoing certification program validated by one of the three boards. 

Board-certified neurologists and neurosurgeons also treat people with neurologic conditions. To help you choose the right doctor, talk with your regular doctor—perhaps your primary care doctor—about the best type of specialist for your condition and ask for referrals to well-respected doctors. When considering a specialist, ask him or her to provide details about the training and experience they have. 

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jan 22
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