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What are neurological diagnostic tests?

Evaluating and diagnosing damage to the nervous system — which consists of the brain, the spinal cord and the nerves from these areas — is complicated and complex. But thanks to advances in science, we now have many state-of-the-art tools at our disposal to help identify and diagnose damage.

  • Many disorders don't have definitive causes, markers, or tests, so multiple examinations may be needed to accurately diagnose the damage.

What are the types of neurological diagnostic tests?

  • An arteriogram also called angiogram) is a procedure that provides a scan of arteries going to and through the brain.
  • Your child's doctor may recommend a CT or CAT scan, a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called "slices") of the body.
  • Your child's muscles and motor neurons may be evaluated with electrodiagnostic tests (i.e., electromyography and nerve conduction velocity). During these tests, clectrodes are inserted into the muscle, or placed on the skin overlying a muscle or muscle group, and electrical activity and muscle response are recorded.
  • An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a procedure that records the brain's continuous, electrical activity by means of electrodes attached to the scalp.
  • Evoked potentials are procedures that record the brain's electrical response to visual, auditory and sensory stimuli.
  • The Maintenance of Wakefulness Test (MWT) measures sleepiness by recording a child's brain and body activity (typically brain waves, eye movements, muscle tone, heart rate and rhythm, and leg movements) at repeated times across the day.
  • An MRI may be used to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
  • The Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT) records a child's brain and body activity at repeated times across the day to measure how fast the child can fall asleep and to identify the type of sleep attained. This test provides a measure of sleepiness and helps make specific sleep-disorder diagnoses.
  • A myelogram is a procedure that uses dye injected into the spinal canal to make the structure clearly visible on x-rays.
  • Your child's blood flow may be measured by a neurosonography, a procedure that uses ultra high-frequency sound waves.
  • A polysomnography (PSG) is used to assess sleep quality and to identify sleep disorders. It records brain waves, eye movements, muscle tone, respiration, heart rate and rhythm and leg movements.
  • A Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan is a computer-based imaging technique that provides a picture of the brain's activity rather than its structure by measuring levels of injected glucose which are labeled with a radioactive tracer.
  • A spinal tap or lumbar puncture is a procedure used to make an evaluation or diagnosis by examining the fluid withdrawn from the spinal column.
  • An ultrasound (also called sonography) is a diagnostic imaging technique, which uses high-frequency sound waves and a computer to create images of blood vessels, tissues and organs.

How should I prepare my child for neurological testing?


You can't explain the examination to an infant, but you can help your baby feel more secure during the test by bringing a special blanket, toy, or pacifier. You may breastfeed your baby or give her a bottle of juice or formula once the technician tells you your baby can eat.

Toddlers and preschool-aged children

Young children remember things for only a short amount of time, so the best time to talk about the test is right before you are ready to come to the hospital. Explain to your child that you are going to the hospital to have some pictures taken that the physician needs in order to help her get better. Try to use simple words.

It's important to be honest with your child. If the test will be uncomfortable, be sure to talk about and tell her it's OK to cry. Because many children at this age are afraid of being separated from their parents, let her know that mom or dad will stay with her as much as possible. When you come to the hospital, bring a favorite book, toy, or blanket.

School-aged children

School-aged children have good imaginations. If you don't tell them the truth, they may imagine something much worse than the actual test. The day of the test, tell your child that she will be going to the hospital to have some pictures taken. Tell her that the pictures will help the physician decide how to make her better. Use simple words and be honest. Try to tell your child exactly what will happen. When you come to the hospital, bring a favorite book, toy, or blanket.

Neurological Diagnostic Tests | Programs & Services