Medical Terminology for Nervous System Tests, Procedures, and Pharmacology

By Beverley Henderson, Jennifer Lee Dorsey

You will need to become familiar with the medical terminology for nervous system tests, procedures, and pharmacology. The nervous system is a delicate part of the body, so you don’t want to miss out on any information.

Nervous radiology and diagnostic tests

Here’s a bit about how to diagnose the nervous system’s conditions and diseases. Because many of the following tests deal with delicate parts, such as the spinal cord and brain, physicians try to keep invasive measures to a minimum. It’s certainly a good idea to find a solid, reputable facility you feel comfortable with instead of going to Joe Bob’s House of MRIs.

And now, to the testing:

  • Cerebral angiography: Contrast medium (such as dye) is injected into an artery, and X-rays are taken of the blood vessel systems of the brain. This is also called arteriography.

  • Cerebrospinal fluid analysis analyzes cell count, bacterial smears, and cultures of the CSF when disease of the meninges or the brain is suspected.

  • Computerized tomography (CT) scans are performed on the brain to locate a tumor, foreign matter, or blocked vessel.

  • Electroencephalography (EEG) is a recording of the electrical activity of the brain, performed to diagnose epilepsy, tumors, brain damage, and to determine brain death.

  • Electromyography (EMG) is a record of the electrical activity of a muscle, performed to diagnose nerve and muscle dysfunction and spinal cord disease.

  • Electronystagmography (ENG) is a group of tests to diagnose dizziness, balance disorders, and evaluate brain function.

  • Intrathecal contrast-enhanced CT scan (cisternography) is a procedure when contrast dye is injected in the spinal sac to detect spinal and spinal nerve root abnormalities.

  • Lumbar or spinal puncture is when cerebrospinal fluid is withdrawn for analysis from between two lumbar vertebrae. Contrast medium for x-ray studies such as a myelogram or intrathecal medicine may be administered via lumbar puncture procedure.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a noninvasive technique producing cross-sectional and vertical images of soft tissues of the brain by use of magnetic waves. Unlike a CT scan, the MRI produces images without the use of radiation or contrast medium. It is used to visualize tumors, edema, and to confirm multiple sclerosis.

  • Myelogram is a procedure in which contrast medium is injected into the CSF, and x-rays are taken of the spinal cord.

  • Polysomnography is a technique to measure brain and body activity during sleep.

  • Positron emission tomography (PET) is a technique that permits viewing of a slice of the brain and gives information of brain function such as blood flow.

Nervous surgeries and procedures

Most surgeries of this system involve removal of tumors in the brain itself, whether malignant or benign. Tumors of the spinal cord can also be removed surgically. Surgery on the brain and the spinal cord is, as you might imagine, very involved and detailed, due to the complexity of nerves and the tissue involved. So, think reputable institution and not Craniotomy Mart.

Let’s start getting inside your head, literally:

  • Craniotomy: Surgical cutting into and opening the skull to gain access to the brain tissue for surgery

  • Decompression craniectomy: A portion of the cranium (skull) is removed to relieve brain swelling following traumatic brain injury or a stroke

  • Hypophysectomy: Removal of the pituitary gland to treat tumors, specifically craniopharyngiomas

  • Laminectomy: Excision of the posterior arch of a vertebra

  • Neurectomy: Excision of a nerve

  • Neuroplasty: Surgical repair of a nerve

Nervous pharmacology

Now it’s time to treat yourself to some drugs. Here are some common types of medications used to treat disorders and conditions of the nervous system:

  • Anticonvulsants, hypnotics, and sedatives are used to treat various types of seizures.

  • CNS stimulants are used to treat attention deficit disorders.

  • Cognition adjuvant therapy is given to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Hypnotics are used to treat sleeping disorders; examples include barbiturates and nonbarbiturates.

The Greek root of hyponotics, hypnos, means “to sleep.”