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THE KILLER INSTINCT

28-05-2010

dr David Nicholl

Neurophobia - the ‘disease’ you have never heard of, and its more dangerous than swine flu says Dr David Nicholl.

Neurophobia is not some prog rock band, but the term that was coined some years ago by a US neurologist to describe the fear of neurology by medical students and doctors of neurology - the study of diseases of the brain and nervous system.

Even most doctors will not have heard of the term neurophobia, but if you ask them which is the specialty at medical school they found most difficult - the majority will likely plump for neurology. There is a widespread misperception amongst medics that somehow one needs to be some kind of egghead clever clogs to understand neurology.

Sadly this belief is only exaggerated by the fact that the majority of neurology will be taught by non-neurologists. So this neurophobic fear of neurology becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy; the medical student is taught by someone who themselves has not had much neurology training, so at the end of the day they both convince themselves that neurology is devilishly difficult.

Why does this matter to patients? Is all this just neurological navel-gazing? Not really, as up to 20% of admissions to hospital are neurological - think of the number of people admitted with headaches, dizziness, blackouts and strokes and you soon realise how important a proper (and competent) neurological assessment is for a vast number of patients.

On the other hand, think of the numbers of medical mishaps, and misdiagnoses where a neurological assessment is central to getting a diagnosis- from the patient with a head injury, suspected meningitis to just sorting out their migraine.

Yet the cure for, what is in effect, ignorance is going to be difficult - when research into neurophobia is so limited. Only 7 articles in the main search engine that doctors use for finding scientific papers . There are over 29,000 for swine flu - I know which is more likely to kill you.

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