Vascular Neurologist: Your Brain Vasculature & Stroke Specialist

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What is a vascular neurologist?

A vascular neurologist specializes in caring for people with cerebrovascular problems. This includes the blood vessels in the brain and spinal cord. Vascular neurologists diagnose and treat many cerebrovascular diseases and events, including stroke, brain aneurysm, and spinal cord hemorrhage. Vascular neurologists are also experts in preventing and reducing complications and disability from cerebrovascular problems.

A vascular neurologist typically:

  • Evaluates a patient’s medical history and educates the patient about cerebrovascular health and disease prevention

  • Performs a physical exam that includes evaluation of blood pressure, vital signs, general health, and brain and nervous system health

  • Orders and interprets laboratory and imaging tests and prescribes medications

  • Diagnoses and treats acute and chronic diseases and conditions that affect the blood vessels of the brain and spinal cord, such as stroke

  • Provides direct care for cerebrovascular conditions in the office, outpatient setting, clinic, and hospital

  • Screens, treats, and monitors conditions that increase the risk of serious brain and spinal cord conditions, such as a head injury

  • Performs certain procedures, such as lumbar puncture

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

Vascular neurologists may also be known by the following names: brain blood vessel doctor, stroke specialist, brain doctor, and brain specialist.

Who should see a vascular neurologist?

Many people see a vascular neurologist for the first time when their primary care doctor or other specialist finds or suspects a cerebrovascular disease or condition, such as a vascular malformation or carotid stenosis. Cerebrovascular diseases and conditions affect the blood vessels of the brain or spinal cord. Your doctor may also refer you to a vascular neurologist for further evaluation of symptoms or risk factors for serious cerebrovascular conditions, such as stroke.

Seeing an experienced vascular neurologist for early treatment or preventive care before serious cerebrovascular problems occur is the best way to reduce the risk of permanent damage, disability, and other complications.

When should you see a vascular neurologist?

Consider seeking care from a vascular neurologist if you have any of the following symptoms or conditions: 

  • Headaches, neck or back pain, weakness, numbness, or dizziness that your doctor believes needs specialized evaluation

  • Problems with eyesight, memory, speech, decision-making, balance, coordination, or muscle control that your doctor believes to be caused by a problem in the blood vessel of the brain or spinal cord

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

  • You need specialized tests or procedures of the blood vessels of the brain or spinal cord.

  • You have serious cerebrovascular risk factors.

  • Your primary doctor or specialist finds a vascular abnormality that needs further evaluation.

  • You have a cerebrovascular condition or disease that requires ongoing monitoring and specialized care.

What conditions and diseases does a vascular neurologist treat?

A vascular neurologist treats conditions and diseases including:

  • Blood vessel malformations including venous and arteriovenous malformations

  • Brain aneurysm, a ballooning of a brain artery wall that can rupture and cause bleeding in the brain (cerebral hemorrhage)

  • Brain or spinal cord injury including severe head injury with bleeding into the brain (cerebral hemorrhage)

  • Cerebral vasculitis, an inflammation of blood vessels of the brain

  • Narrowing of arteries that supply the brain with blood, including carotid artery stenosis and vertebrobasilar stenosis

  • Stroke including stroke caused by a blood clot (ischemic stroke), bleeding into the brain (hemorrhagic stroke), and childhood stroke

  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA), a set of stroke-like symptoms that could be a warning sign of a full-blown stroke

What tests does a vascular neurologist perform or order?

A vascular neurologist can order, perform and interpret a wide variety of diagnostic and screening tests including:

  • General health and screening tests including complete blood count (CBC), blood culture, spinal fluid analysis, urinalysis, blood glucose (sugar) test, electrolyte tests, liver and kidney function tests, blood pressure screening, blood oxygen level (pulse oximetry), and arterial blood gas testing

  • Electroencephalogram (EEG) to record the brain's electrical activity and help diagnose such symptoms as seizures, fainting, or blacking out

  • Imaging tests including X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, nuclear scans, ultrasound of the carotid and vertebral arteries, transcranial ultrasound Doppler, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

What procedures and treatments does a vascular neurologist perform or order?

Vascular neurologists order or perform various procedures and treatments, but they do not perform surgery. Vascular surgeons or neurosurgeons usually perform blood vessel, brain, or nervous system surgery. Procedures that vascular neurologists may perform, order and interpret include: 

  • Cerebral angiography, a type of X-ray in which a special dye is injected through a catheter to show how blood flows through brain arteries

  • IV-tPA, an intravenous medication to dissolve a blood clot that is causing a stroke

  • Lumbar puncture, also called a spinal tap

  • Management of stroke recovery including rehabilitation

  • Medications for stroke prevention including anticoagulants and antiplatelets, which inhibit blood clotting

  • Prevention and management of neurological complications, including cerebral edema and increased intracranial pressure, infection, and arrhythmias

  • Risk screening for stroke, TIA, and other cerebrovascular conditions, and management of risk factors, such as hypertension and high cholesterol

Vascular neurologist training and certification

Education, training, experience and certification are key elements in establishing a doctor’s level of competence. Board certification in vascular neurology verifies that a doctor has completed residency training in the specialty and has passed competency examinations.

A board-certified vascular neurologist has:

  • Graduated from medical school or a college of osteopathic medicine, earning an MD or DO degree

  • Completed specialized residency training and earned certification in neurology by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

  • Completed an accredited fellowship training program in vascular neurology

  • Passed a certification exam that validates the doctor’s specialized knowledge and skills in vascular neurology

To maintain board certification in vascular neurology, a doctor must complete the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology’s Maintenance of Certification program in neurology.

Vascular neurology is a subspecialty of neurology. The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology does not formally recognize any subspecialties of vascular neurology. However, there are vascular neurologists who are leaders in their field or in treating a specific type of vascular condition, such as brain aneurysm or stroke.

Other board-certified specialists, such as neurologists and neurosurgeons, also treat people with problems of the blood vessels of the brain and spinal cord. Talk to your doctor about the best kind of specialist or subspecialist for you and ask for referrals to well-respected doctors. When considering a vascular neurologist, ask for details about his or her training and experience.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2017 Nov 27
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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