MSD Manual

Please confirm that you are not located inside the Russian Federation

honeypot link

Introduction to the Diagnosis of Brain, Spinal Cord, and Nerve Disorders


Michael C. Levin

, MD, College of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan

Last full review/revision Dec 2018| Content last modified Dec 2018
Click here for the Professional Version

The nervous system consists of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves that connect the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body (peripheral nerves).

Doctors may suspect a problem with the brain, spinal cord, or nerves based on symptoms. Symptoms resulting from a disorder that affects part or all of the nervous system (a neurologic disorder) are called neurologic symptoms.

Because the nervous system controls so many different body functions, neurologic symptoms can vary greatly. They can include the following:

Neurologic symptoms may be minor (such as a foot that has fallen asleep) or life threatening (such as coma due to stroke).

The characteristics and pattern of symptoms help doctors diagnose the neurologic disorder.

When people have symptoms that suggest a neurologic disorder, doctors ask specific questions about the symptoms and other relevant factors (the medical history). Doctors usually also do a physical examination to evaluate all of the body systems, but they focus on the nervous system (called the neurologic examination).

The neurologic examination helps doctors do the following:

  • Identify the location of the abnormality that is causing the symptoms

  • Determine whether tests are needed and, if needed, which tests should be done

Diagnostic tests may be needed to confirm a diagnosis or exclude other possible disorders.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
Others also read

Also of Interest

Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID