Neurological disease affects the central and peripheral nervous systems. The brain and the spinal cord make up the central nervous system, while the peripheral nervous system describes all of the nerves extending from the brain and spinal cord.
Well-known examples of neurological disorders include dementias like Alzheimer’s disease, cerebrovascular diseases like stroke, headache disorders such as migraine, brain tumors, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.
How common are neurological diseases?
Some neurological diseases are appallingly common. For example, according to the World Health Organization, it’s estimated that over ten percent of the world’s population suffers from migraines. About six million people throughout the world die from stroke every year. Over fifty million people worldwide have epilepsy. A staggering 47.5 million people have some type of dementia, and 7.7 million more are diagnosed every year. Of those millions, roughly 60 to 70 percent have Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common dementia.
What are some types of neurological diseases?
Researchers have described over 600 types of neurological diseases. As already mentioned, doctors may describe a neurological disease depending on whether it affects the central nervous system, peripheral nervous system or both.
Doctors may also categorize a neurological disease by its characteristics. Common categories include the following:
• Structural disorders
• Functional disorders
• Vascular disorders
• Degenerative diseases
A structural disorder is one in which the doctor finds a visible abnormality causing the patient’s symptoms. Carpal tunnel syndrome, for example, is caused by a compressed nerve in the wrist. Known as the median nerve, it travels through a narrow tunnel. When something causes that tunnel to become too narrow, it presses on the nerve.
Other examples of structural disorders include Bell’s palsy, peripheral neuropathy, tumors, cervical spondylosis, and Guillain-Barré syndrome. In a functional disorder, the doctor finds no abnormalities within the nervous system – but the patient still has symptoms of a neurological problem. Examples of functional disorders include epilepsy, headaches, neuralgia, and dizziness.
Vascular disorders, like stroke, are caused by diseases of the blood vessels that supply the brain with oxygen and nutrients. Degenerative disorders are conditions in which nerve cells die or become damaged at a faster pace than the body can repair or replace them. Multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are all examples of degenerative disorders.
What causes neurological diseases?
Different diseases have different causes. Some, like many seizure disorders, are idiopathic, which means that the doctor can’t identify a cause. Many are caused by an infection of some sort. The HIV virus, for example, can cause neurological symptoms. Diseases caused by parasites, like malaria, can also affect the nervous system, as can diseases caused by fungal or bacterial infections.
Can someone be born with a neurological disorder?
Sadly, yes. Some neurological disorders are caused by birth defects. Neural tube defects are one group of birth defects. The neural tube is an embryonic structure that develops early in pregnancy. It will eventually develop into the brain, spinal cord, and protective structures like the backbone. A neural tube defect occurs when the tube doesn’t close properly somewhere along its length.
The most common and best-known examples of neural tube defects are spina bifida and anencephaly. In spina bifida, the spine does not form properly. There are several different types that range in severity. The most severe form is also, unfortunately, the most common form. The patient will be partially or completely paralyzed below the spinal defect, and they will usually have urinary and bowel problems.
In anencephaly, the neural tube doesn’t close at the top of the head, so the infant is missing most of their brain and may also be missing parts of the skull. The condition is not compatible with life.
Other birth defects affecting the nervous system include seizure disorders, periventricular leukomalacia, and intracranial hemorrhage. The last two conditions are most common in premature babies. Certain metabolic disorders can affect the brain or nervous system.
When should somebody see a neurologist?
A neurologist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases and disorders of the nervous system. A patient who suspects they have a neurological problem should see their primary care physician first. After examining them, the primary care physician can refer the patient to a neurologist.
In some cases, it will be obvious that somebody needs a neurologist. For example, if a patient has convulsions or seizures, they should be examined by a neurologist. In other cases, the patient should consider the severity of their symptoms before calling a doctor. For instance, everybody gets headaches at some points. People can treat an ordinary headache with aspirin and some rest. On the other hand, they should call a doctor if the headache is accompanied by vomiting or changes in vision. They should also call the doctor if the headache is severe or lasts an unusually long time.
Similarly, pain is fairly normal when somebody is recovering from an injury or illness. It becomes a cause for concern, however, if it persists for longer than the expected recovery time. A patient should also call a doctor if the pain is accompanied by other symptoms such as numbness, weakness, or incontinence of the bowel or bladder.
Numbness or tingling can be benign when someone’s foot “falls asleep.” But if the numbness occurs suddenly, lasts a long time, or affects only one side of the body, it could indicate a stroke, which is a medical emergency.
Other symptoms that require a doctor’s attention include unusual weakness, sudden changes in vision, severe and unexplained dizziness, confusion or memory problems, and sleep disorders. A patient should also call a doctor if they develop mobility problems like tremors, loss of coordination or balance, or trouble walking.
How do professionals diagnose a neurological disease?
We have an array of tests we can use to either diagnose a disease or rule out other conditions. For instance, we will often order blood tests or urine tests to either rule out various conditions or make a diagnosis. We can test the DNA taken from a patient’s white blood cells if we suspect the patient has a genetic disorder like Huntington’s disease.
We may also perform a neurological exam during which we will test the patient’s motor skills, speech, hearing, and vision. The neurologist will use a variety of tools during the exam such as an ophthalmoscope, reflex hammer, flashlight, tuning fork, and needles. Such tests can help the doctor diagnose epilepsy, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, and infections like meningitis or encephalitis.
The doctor may order X-rays of the patient’s skull and chest. We may order a special type of X-ray that enables the doctor to assess the patient’s blood flow through the arteries.
After taking the patient’s history and completing a neurological exam, laboratory tests, and X-rays, the team will either issue a diagnosis or order more tests that can include any of the following:
• Ultrasound imaging
• Electroencephalography (EEG)
• Cerebrospinal fluid analysis
• Brain scans
What is electroencephalography?
Electroencephalography or EEG is a diagnostic technique used to measure electrical activity within the brain. It can help a doctor diagnose epilepsy, inflammation of the brain or spinal cord, brain damage caused by injuries, brain tumors, degenerative or metabolic disorders affecting the brain, alcoholism, and certain psychiatric disorders.
What does cerebrospinal fluid analysis involve?
Cerebrospinal fluid analysis can be done to measure pressure within the skull, detect bleeding, and diagnose infections and some conditions like multiple sclerosis. The doctor will collect a sample of the fluid that protects the brain and spinal cord.
What is a brain scan?
A brain scan describes any type of imaging technique used to examine the brain. A doctor may order one to look for malformations of blood vessels, hemorrhages in the brain, or brain tumors. Examples of brain scans include positron emission tomography (PET), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT).
What happens during an MRI?
An MRI uses radio waves generated by a computer to produce detailed images of various tissues and organs. Neurologists use an MRI to detect tumors, abnormal blood vessels that could result in a stroke, inflammation, infection, and eye disease. An MRI can also spot brain damage caused by injury and it can record and monitor degenerative disorders like multiple sclerosis.
What is a biopsy?
A biopsy is the removal of a small piece of tissue for later examination in a laboratory. A neurologist may request a muscle or nerve biopsy to determine if the patient has a hereditary disorder or to diagnose disorders affecting the nerves and muscles. A brain biopsy is used to identify the type of brain tumor in a patient.
What is an angiography?
An angiography is done to detect blockages in blood vessels. It can also detect any narrowing of blood vessels. A cerebral angiogram can diagnose stroke and determine the location and size of an aneurysm or tumor. An angiography is an outpatient procedure.
Learn More Information
If you suspect that you or a loved one could have a neurological disease, don’t delay in seeking professional guidance. Turn to the team at PRMEDICA, Inc. to learn more about neurological diseases, the symptoms, and the available treatment options. We have offices in Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo and happily serve men and women throughout the surrounding areas. During an appointment at our office, we can evaluate your condition and determine the next steps for you, as we know that treatment is not one-size-fits-all. Contact us today to book an appointment and get started. We look forward to hearing from you!