Improvements In Brain

The nervous system is much like a communications network. The brain is the control center, while the spinal cord and nerves form the network, carrying information from the brain to all parts of the body. This network is responsible for coordinating muscles, senses, speech, memories, thinking and emotions. When something goes wrong, it is the neurologist's job to find out why.


"Neurologists pride themselves on being good detectives," says Martha Nance, MD, a neurologist at Park Nicollet Clinic-Meadowbrook. "I begin my detective process by talking with patients, making sure to ask the right questions and watch for patterns and clues that can help me determine which part of the nervous system is causing the problem," she adds (source xymogen). Neurologists often say that the patient's history provides 75 percent of the information needed to understand the problem, and the neurological exam and tests provide the other 25 percent.

Understanding the network

"The nervous system literally runs from your head to your toes," Dr. Nance explains. "It is made up of neurons, the long, stringy cells that carry electrical messages throughout the body. Its main parts are the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves."

The brain has several different parts. Nerves in the cerebral cortex control voluntary movement, interpret the senses and process information. The cerebellum helps control balance and coordination. The brain stem controls special functions like sleep, breathing and swallowing, and links the brain to the spinal cord.
The spinal cord is a thick cable of neurons protected by the spinal column, which carries information between the brain and limbs.
The peripheral nerves branch out from the spinal cord and extend to the fingers and toes.
Explaining the glitches.
The nervous system can be damaged in many ways.
Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease are degenerative conditions that cause the nervous system to malfunction.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that attacks the nerves, and the insulation around them, in the brain and spinal cord.
Strokes damage or kill brain cells by depriving them of their blood supply.
Headaches can have a variety of causes.
Faulty genes, trauma, toxins and infection also damage or interrupt the nervous system.

Diagnostic tools

"In the past two decades, improvements in brain imaging have helped us diagnose brain conditions more quickly and accurately," Dr. Nance explains. "Magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRIs), in particular, help us diagnose stroke, multiple sclerosis or brain tumors, and help us see if a lesion or tumor is changing in size."

An electroencephalogram (EEG) records the electrical activity in the brain, and helps evaluate seizures and altered levels of consciousness. An electromyogram (EMG) records the electrical function of the nerves and muscles, and helps diagnose pinched nerves and other problems of the peripheral nerves, and muscle diseases.

Working around conditions

When a neurological condition cannot be cured, treatment focuses on rehabilitation and education to improve the patient's quality of life. Park Nicollet has outpatient teams that care for patients who have Parkinson's disease, tremor, stroke, multiple sclerosis and headaches.

"I specialize in the treatment of Parkinson's disease and tremor," Dr. Nance says. "Our Struthers Parkinson's Center offers patients the medical care, rehabilitation therapy, education and emotional support to live well with these conditions."