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What is a neurological exam?

The nervous system consists of the brain, the spinal cord and the nerves from these areas. A neurological examination, also called a neuro exam, is an evaluation of a person's nervous system that can be performed in the doctor's office. It may be performed with instruments, such as lights and reflex hammers, and usually does not cause any pain to the patient.

Why it's done

A complete and thorough evaluation of a person's nervous system is important if there is any reason to think there may be an underlying problem, or during a complete physical. Damage to the nervous system can cause problems in daily functioning. Early identification may help to identify the cause and decrease long-term complications.

A complete neurological examination may be performed:

  • During a routine physical
  • Following any type of trauma
  • To follow the progression of a disease
  • If a person has any of the following complaints:
    • Headaches
    • Blurry vision
    • Change in behavior
    • Fatigue
    • Change in balance or coordination
    • Numbness or tingling in the arms or legs
    • Decrease in movement of the arms or legs
    • Injury to the head, neck, or back
    • Fever
    • Seizures
    • Slurred speech
    • Weakness
    • Tremor

What to expect

There are many aspects of this examination, including an assessment of motor and sensory skills, balance and coordination, mental status (the patient's level of awareness and interaction with the environment), reflexes and functioning of the nerves. The extent of the examination depends on many factors, including the initial problem that the patient is experiencing, the age of the patient and the condition of the patient.

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