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Diagnostic testing

Diagnosis of diagnostic testing

Standard neurological diagnostic tests include:

  • Brain scans, including several types of imaging, like x-rays, MRIs, CT scans, and PET scans, can diagnose brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, skull injuries, bleeding in the brain (“cerebral hemorrhage”), and strokes.


  • Laboratory testing of blood, urine, and other bodily fluids. These tests can indicate the presence of autoimmune disorders (which can cause neurological symptoms), and can also be used to detect toxins, conduct genetic testing, muscle disorders, and infections.


  • Angiography (also called a cerebral angiogram) detects blocked arteries using an injected dye.


  • Electroencephalogram (EEG) measures electrical activity in the brain and can diagnose seizure disorders and other conditions.


  • Electromyogram (EMG) measures electrical activity in the muscles.


  • Evoked potential (EP) measures your response to stimuli like sound, touch, and visual information. Variations of this mode of testing include brainstem auditory evoked potential (BAEP) and lower and upper somatosensory evoked potential (SEP or SSEP).


  • Myelography is where a contrast dye is injected in the spinal canal in order to diagnose tumors or herniated disc spinal cord compression.


  • Biopsy removes a small sample of tissue for testing.


  • Cerebrospinal fluid testing removes a small sample of your cerebrospinal fluid for testing.


  • Polysomnogram is when you spend the night or several nights in a sleep lab so that your care team can monitor things like eye movement, heart rate, muscle activity, and other potential signs of sleep disorders.



Specific neurological diagnostic testing methods, such as biopsy and myelography, are invasive. Other tests involve noninvasive imaging scans or electrical impulse recording, such as EEG.

While the risks of this kind of testing are typically minimal and complications are rare, any procedure comes with some level of risk, such as allergic reactions to contrast dye and infections at the injection site.

No matter which type of diagnostic testing you need, your neurology team will provide details about what to expect and how to minimize risk of complications. They will also keep you as comfortable as possible, whether it takes place in a Dignity Health outpatient center, doctor’s office, or hospital.


To prepare for a neurological exam or testing, you should first ask your care team what to expect and whether you need to take any specific steps to get ready.

Many types of neurological imaging and testing can be conducted on-site and with a same-day appointment that does not require extensive preparation.

Other types of procedures are more involved and require more planning. If you are scheduled for a more invasive testing procedure such as biopsy, your doctor may recommend that you set up transportation home for after your appointment. They may also recommend that you take steps to make yourself comfortable during the procedure, such as by taking medications beforehand or stopping eating and drinking. You should also discuss with your doctor any concerns you have, whether you are taking medications currently, and whether you have any allergies.


Simple imaging studies often require no recovery time. After they are complete, you are free to return home or to work. Some diagnostic tests require you to spend time under the care of a nurse in a recovery area.

If your test required a skin puncture (for example, an imaging test that involved injection of contrast), your care team will give you instructions about how to care for the needle site. Your doctor will also explain the types of activities you should or should not participate in.


You may receive the results of your test immediately, or it may take a few days while your doctor analyzes the data or images.

Dignity Health provides comprehensive, personalized neurology services, including diagnostic testing.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.

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