The Neurological Exam
A neurological exam is a series of tests and procedures used to assess a person’s nerves, senses, muscle strength, reflexes, balance, and mental state. The purpose of a neurological exam is to help your doctor determine what is causing the symptoms that brought you into the office.
A basic neurological exam includes the following:
- Eye Tests: Along with a vision test and a check of the optic nerve, your doctor will also check to see how well your eyes follow a moving object, how quickly the pupils react to light, and whether or not your eyes move together when your head is turned from side to side.
- Hearing Tests: Your hearing will be tested using a ticking watch, tuning fork, or other tool.
- Reflex Tests: Your doctor will check your reflexes by gently tapping just below your kneecaps with a rubber hammer.
- Balance and Coordination Tests: You will be asked to perform some potentially challenging physical tasks such as walking heel-to-toe, balancing with your feet together and eyes closed, and closing your eyes and extending your arms and touching your nose with the tip of one finger.
- Sense of Touch Tests: You will be asked to describe the feel of an object such as a cotton ball or a paint brush.
- Sense of Smell Tests: You will be asked to describe various odors.
- Facial Muscle Tests: You will be asked to make faces such as a smile, a frown, or a grimace.
- Tongue Movement and Gag Reflex Tests: Your doctor will check your swallow response to ensure that the nerves related to this function are working correctly.
- Head Movement Tests: Your doctor will use this test to find out more about any issues with balance and/or mobility you may be having.
- Mental Status Tests: You will be asked basic questions, such as the name of the current president or day of the week.
- Abstract Thinking Tests: You might be asked to interpret a common saying, such as “a stitch in time saves nine.”
- Memory Tests: You might be asked to repeat a list of objects, describe what you ate for breakfast yesterday, or tell about how you celebrated last Thanksgiving.
If the results of your neurological examination lead the doctor to suspect that you have a brain tumor, a scan will be ordered, or you might be referred to a neurological specialist for more testing. These additional tests might include scans, x-rays, or laboratory tests.
Neurological exams can be done at a physican's office or bed side, and can be repeated throughout the course of treatment or measure progress or check symptoms.
It is important to note that the information provided here is basic and does not take the place of an in-person assessment by a physician. If you have any questions about how brain tumors are diagnosed, please contact your doctor.