neurology clerkship learning objectives

Clinical skills

Perform a neurological screening examination of the cranial nerves, motor system, reflexes, and sensory system under the observation and guidance of an attending neurologist.

 Localization skills:  focal weakness or numbness

1.         For a patient with limb weakness, recognize any signs and symptoms of lower motor neuron (LMN) versus upper motor neuron (UMN) lesions in order to localize the problem to the brain, brainstem, spinal cord, or nerves.

 2.         For a patient with facial weakness, recognize the lower motor neuron (LMN) versus upper motor neuron

            (UMN) signs and symptoms in order to localize the problem to the facial nerve/nucleus or a more

            rostral level, respectively.

3.         If there are no LMN or UMN signs in a patient with weakness, recognize any signs and symptoms suggesting that myopathy or a neuromuscular junction disorder is the cause.

4.         Recognize the typical patterns of sensory deficit which localize, in conjunction with other signs and symptoms, the cause of numbness in a patient to the nerves, roots, spinal cord, brainstem or brain. 

 Localization skills:  visual changes or impairment

5.         Recognize that visual impairment from binocular diplopia (where covering either eye normalizes

            vision) is caused by dysfunction of the extraocular muscles (lesions of the muscles, their neuromuscular

            junctions, their cranial nerves or connecting pathways).


 6.         Recognize how certain patterns of visual loss in a patient localize the problem to the optic nerve,

             optic chiasm or visual pathways.


 7.         Recognize which abnormalities in the pupillary light reflex and appearance of the   optic disc are caused

            by a problem with the optic nerve, retina or optic chiasm, in a patient with visual loss.

Localization skills:  dementia, delirium, language/memory/cognitive loss

8.         Recognize the typical clinical features of a patient with the acute confusional state (delirium), and list

            common disorders (primarily or secondarily affecting the brain) which cause it.


 9.         Recognize which clinical features in a patient with memory and cognitive loss are typical of dementia,

             and list common disorders which cause it, emphasizing   treatable or reversible causes.

 10.       Recognize and contrast the signs and symptoms of Broca's versus Wernicke's  aphasia.

 Localization skills:  dizziness, abnormal balance or gait

 11.       Recognize the clinical features that distinguish near-syncope or syncope from vertigo as the cause of

            dizziness in a patient, and list common causes of each.


12.       Recognize which signs and symptoms in a patient with abnormal balance or gait relate the problem to the

           sensory, cerebellar, motor or extrapyramidal   (parkinsonism) systems, and list common causes of each.

 Localization skills:  headache or regional pain

 13.       Recognize and contrast the usual clinical features of migraine versus tension headache.

 14.       Recognize which signs and symptoms are suggestive of headache from increased intracranial pressure

             and list common causes of it.

 15.       Recognize the typical signs and symptoms in patients with common regional pain syndromes (trigeminal

            neuralgia, zoster, painful neuropathy), and the usual causes of each.

 Localization skills:  impaired consciousness or sleep disorder

 16.       Recognize which signs and symptoms in a patient with impaired consciousness or coma localize the

            problem to the brain stem versus brain, and that asymmetrical findings suggest a structural lesion

            requiring emergent evaluation (especially a dilated, fixed pupil from uncal herniation).

 17.       Recognize and contrast the symptoms suggestive of sleep apnea versus narcolepsy.

 Localization skills:  seizures or involuntary movements

 18.       Recognize which signs and symptoms distinguish a seizure from syncope, and list the common causes

            of a seizure.

 19.       Recognize the clinical features of different types of seizures.

 20.       Recognize the clinical features of certain involuntary movements (tremor, dystonia, choreoathetosis,

            myoclonus, tic), and the disorders commonly associated with them, such as parkinsonism, Huntington's

            disease, and toximetabolic encephalopathy.

 Knowledge and management of specific disorders or diseases

21.       Describe the basic pathophysiology, common clinical manifestations, and appropriate work-up and

            treatment of transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) and ischemic infarction of brain or brainstem.

22.       Describe the basic pathophysiology, common clinical manifestations, and appropriate work-up and treatment of intracranial hemorrhage.

23.       Describe the evaluation and treatment of a seizure disorder, listing the anticonvulsants for partial or secondarily generalized seizures (phenytoin, carbamazepine, lamotrigine, gabapentin, valproate, oxcarbazepine and levetiracetam) and the anticonvulsants for absence or primarily generalized seizures (valproate, ethosuximide and lamotrigine).

24.       Recognize that anticonvulsants may cause confusion, somnolence and ataxia at high serum levels and teratogenicity at minimal serum levels.

25.       Describe this protocol for treating generalized status epilepticus:  first, give lorazepam 0.1 mg/kg (4-8 mg) as an IV bolus, repeatable in 5-10 minutes if needed, followed by loading with either fosphenytoin 20 phenytoin equivalents (PE)/kg IV, no faster than 150 mg/min, or phenytoin 20 mg/kg IV, given in saline no faster than 50 mg/min

26.       Recognize that an emergent lumbar puncture (LP) is needed in patients suspected of meningitis, encephalitis or subarachnoid hemorrhage (if no blood is detected by CT scan in the latter), and describe the contraindications for an emergent LP. 

27.       Describe the emergent treatment of impaired consciousness from toximetabolic causes, particularly

           hypoglycemia, hypothermia, narcotic or benzodiazepine toxicity.

28.       Describe how intravenous dexamethasone can reduce edema or herniation from certain cerebral lesions (tumor, abscess or encephalitis) or spinal cord lesions (metastatic cord compression, myelitis), but primary treatment directed at the underlying lesion must soon follow.

29.       Describe the typical signs and symptoms of Herpes simplex encephalitis, its diagnosis and initial treatment with an antiviral like acyclovir.

30.       Describe the basic pathophysiology, common clinical manifestations, and appropriate work-up and treatment of multiple sclerosis.

31.       Describe the treatments for migraine (abortive versus prophylactic therapy) and tension headache, and evaluation and treatment of headache from raised intracranial pressure.

32.       Describe the evaluation of an acutely confused or demented patient, emphasizing reversible or treatable causes, with particular attention to Alzheimer's dementia.

33.       Describe the basic pathophysiology, common clinical manifestations, and appropriate work-up and treatment of peripheral neuropathy.

34.       List the pain treatment options for trigeminal neuralgia, postherpetic neuralgia, and radiculopathy.

35.       Describe the diagnosis and treatment of more common neuromuscular disorders like polymyositis, myasthenia gravis, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

 36.       For a patient with acute paralysis which may require mechanical ventilation, describe how myasthenic

            crisis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, or a spinal cord syndrome (spinal cord compression, acute myelitis) is

            diagnosed and initially treated.

37.       Describe the basic pathophysiology, common clinical manifestations, and treatment of Parkinson's disease.

38.       Describe the diagnosis and treatment of (familial) essential tremor.

39.       Describe the usual indications and limitations of electroencephalography (EEG) and electromyography (EMG).

40.       Describe the neurological criteria for brain death.

41.       Describe various means of supportive care in incurable neurological conditions like anoxic encephalopathy (chronic vegetative state), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and end-stage dementia.

Neuroradiology (CT, MRI) interpretation skills:

MRI is the superior imaging modality of the brain and spinal cord.  CT is used if there are contraindications

for MRI, or if the patient is unstable and quickly deteriorating neurologically.  In the latter case, a

significant brain hemorrhage or midline shift should probably be detectable on CT scan.  Knowledge of the

patient allows for meaningful interpretation of CT or MRI scan findings.  Recognize the following basic


42.       Acute hemorrhage appears bright on CT scan, whether in the brain itself, or outside (subarachnoid, subdural) the brain parenchyma.  On T2 weighted MRI, the center of an acute hemorrhage is brighter, with a darker periphery, which changes as the hematoma ages.

 43.       Acute infarction is seen sooner with MRI (DWI earlier than T2 weighted or other images) than CT.  This

            appears to be a bright lesion on MRI (DWI, T2 weighted or FLAIR) or a darker lesion on CT that occurs

            within a vascular territory.  Very early infarcts on CT may only appear as subtle effacement of the

            gray-white matter junction or sulci, or not appear until hours later.


 44.       Local mass effect or edema appears as a surrounding darkness (CT) or bright signal (T2 weighted or

            FLAIR series MRI) around the lesion itself.  Contrast may help delineate the lesion within the surrounding

            edema.  Greater mass effect may produce lateral shifts of cerebral hemispheres beneath the falx (across

             the midline) or down the foramen magnum.


 45.       Hydrocephalus, or ventricular enlargement, may involve some or all of the ventricles, depending on whether

            there is a specific site of obstruction to CSF flow.  The ventricles appear enlarged (ex vacuo) also if there is

            significant loss of brain tissue.


 46.       CNS infection includes abscesses (mass lesions with surrounding edema), encephalitis or myelitis

            (inflammation, often viral, of the brain or spinal cord, appearing bright on T2 weighted or FLAIR series

             MRI) or meningitis (which may be noted as contrast enhancement of leptomeninges on MRI).


 47.       Primary brain tumors are typically solitary lesions, which may be hemorrhagic or heterogeneous, with

            surrounding edema.  Metastatic tumors are often multiple, with surrounding edema, usually found at the

            gray-white matter junction of the brain.  Epidural spinal cord metastases often arise from vertebral bone,

            and expand toward the spinal cord.


 48.       Multiple sclerosis plaques occur in the white matter of the cerebral hemispheres, brain stem and spinal

            cord, seen as bright lesions on T2 weighted or FLAIR series MRI.  Acute lesions may enhance.  The bright

            MRI lesions of MS may be impossible to distinguish from subcortical infarctions, so clinical knowledge of

            the patient is crucial.


 49.       Degenerative spine disease (spondylosis, disc herniations, and central canal stenosis) and its relation to

            the spinal cord and nerve roots are best seen with MRI.  Intrathecal contrast may be necessary to better

            view these relationships with CT scanning (CT myelography).


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  Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. All rights reserved.
Please send questions or comments to: Michael Merchut, M.D.
Updated: 6/30/09 .. Created: 06/16/08