Health Topics

Brain and nerves

Neurologic Diseases
National Library of Medicine
Nerve Diseases
Nervous System Diseases

The brain, spinal cord, and nerves make up the nervous system. Together they control all the workings of the body. When something goes wrong with a part of your nervous system, you can have trouble moving, speaking, swallowing, breathing, or learning. You can also have problems with your memory, senses, or mood.

There are more than 600 neurologic diseases. Major types include

  • Diseases caused by faulty genes, such as Huntington's disease and muscular dystrophy
  • Problems with the way the nervous system develops, such as spina bifida
  • Degenerative diseases, where nerve cells are damaged or die, such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease
  • Diseases of the blood vessels that supply the brain, such as stroke
  • Injuries to the spinal cord and brain
  • Seizure disorders, such as epilepsy
  • Cancer, such as brain tumors
  • infections, such as meningitis

Nervous System Diseases
Brain and Nerves
The brain, spinal cord, and nerves make up the nervous system. Together they control all the workings of the body. When something goes ... develops, such as spina bifida Degenerative diseases, where nerve cells are ... vessels that supply the brain, such as stroke Injuries to the spinal cord ...
Brain Aneurysm
National Library of Medicine
Berry Aneurysm
Cerebral Aneurysm
Intracranial Aneurysm

A brain aneurysm is an abnormal bulge or "ballooning" in the wall of an artery in the brain. They are sometimes called berry aneurysms because they are often the size of a small berry. Most brain aneurysms produce no symptoms until they become large, begin to leak blood, or burst.

If a brain aneurysm presses on nerves in your brain, it can cause signs and symptoms. These can include

  • A droopy eyelid
  • Double vision or other changes in vision
  • Pain above or behind the eye
  • A dilated pupil
  • Numbness or weakness on one side of the face or body

Treatment depends on the size and location of the aneurysm, whether it is infected, and whether it has burst. If a brain aneurysm bursts, symptoms can include a sudden, severe headache, nausea and vomiting, stiff neck, loss of consciousness, and signs of a stroke. Any of these symptoms requires immediate medical attention.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute


Intracranial Aneurysm
Blood, Heart and Circulation
Brain and Nerves
... begin to leak blood, or burst. If a brain aneurysm presses on nerves in your brain, it can cause signs and symptoms. These can ...
Movement Disorders
National Library of Medicine
Ataxia
Chorea
Dyskinesia
Tardive Dyskinesia

Movement disorders are neurologic conditions that cause problems with movement, such as

  • Increased movement that can be voluntary (intentional) or involuntary (unintended)
  • Decreased or slow voluntary movement

There are many different movement disorders. Some of the more common types include

  • Ataxia, the loss of muscle coordination
  • Dystonia, in which involuntary contractions of your muscles cause twisting and repetitive movements. The movements can be painful.
  • Huntington's disease, an inherited disease that causes nerve cells in certain parts of the brain to waste away. This includes the nerve cells that help to control voluntary movement.
  • Parkinson's disease, which is disorder that slowly gets worse over time. It causes tremors, slowness of movement, and trouble walking.
  • Tourette syndrome, a condition which causes people to make sudden twitches, movements, or sounds (tics)
  • Tremor and essential tremor, which cause involuntary trembling or shaking movements. The movements may be in one or more parts of your body.

Causes of movement disorders include

  • Genetics
  • Infections
  • Medicines
  • Damage to the brain, spinal cord, or peripheral nerves
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Stroke and vascular diseases
  • Toxins

Treatment varies by disorder. Medicines can cure some disorders. Others get better when an underlying disease is treated. Often, however, there is no cure. In that case, the goal of treatment is to improve symptoms and relieve pain.


Movement Disorders
Bones, Joints and Muscles
Brain and Nerves
... painful. Huntington's disease, an inherited disease that causes nerve cells in certain parts of the brain to waste away. This includes the nerve cells ...
Brain Diseases
National Library of Medicine

The brain is the control center of the body. It controls thoughts, memory, speech, and movement. It regulates the function of many organs. When the brain is healthy, it works quickly and automatically. However, when problems occur, the results can be devastating.

Inflammation in the brain can lead to problems such as vision loss, weakness and paralysis. Loss of brain cells, which happens if you suffer a stroke, can affect your ability to think clearly. Brain tumors can also press on nerves and affect brain function. Some brain diseases are genetic. And we do not know what causes some brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease.

The symptoms of brain diseases vary widely depending on the specific problem. In some cases, damage is permanent. In other cases, treatments such as surgery, medicines, or physical therapy can correct the source of the problem or improve symptoms.


Brain Diseases
Brain and Nerves
... stroke, can affect your ability to think clearly. Brain tumors can also press on nerves and affect brain function. Some brain diseases are genetic. And we ...
Acute Flaccid Myelitis
National Library of Medicine
AFM
What is acute flaccid myelitis (AFM)?

Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is a neurologic disease. It is rare, but serious. It affects an area of the spinal cord called gray matter. This can cause the muscles and reflexes in the body to become weak.

Because of these symptoms, some people call AFM a "polio-like" illness. But since 2014, people with AFM have been tested, and they did not have poliovirus.

What causes acute flaccid myelitis (AFM)?

Researchers think that viruses, including enteroviruses, likely play a role in causing AFM. Most people with AFM had a mild respiratory illness or fever (like you would get from a viral infection) before they got AFM.

Who is at risk for acute flaccid myelitis (AFM)?

Anyone can get AFM, but most cases (more than 90%) have been in young children.

What are the symptoms of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM)?

Most people with AFM will suddenly have

  • Arm or leg weakness
  • A loss of muscle tone and reflexes

Some people also have other symptoms, including

  • Facial drooping/weakness
  • Trouble moving the eyes
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Slurred speech
  • Pain in the arms, legs, back, or neck

Sometimes AFM can weaken the muscles that you need for breathing. This can lead to respiratory failure, which is very serious. If you get respiratory failure, you may need to use a ventilator (breathing machine) to help you breathe.

If you or your child develops any of these symptoms, you should get medical care right away.

How is acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) diagnosed?

AFM causes many of the same symptoms as other neurologic diseases, such as transverse myelitis and Guillain-Barre syndrome. This can make it difficult to diagnose. The doctor may use many tools to make a diagnosis:

  • A neurologic exam, including looking at where there is weakness, poor muscle tone, and decreased reflexes
  • An MRI to look at the spinal cord and brain
  • Lab tests on the cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid around the brain and spinal cord)
  • Nerve conduction and electromyography (EMG) studies. These tests check nerve speed and the response of muscles to the messages from the nerves.

It is important that the tests are done as soon as possible after the symptoms start.

What are the treatments for acute flaccid myelitis (AFM)?

There is no specific treatment for AFM. A doctor who specializes in treating brain and spinal cord illnesses (neurologist) may recommend treatments for specific symptoms. For example, physical and/or occupational therapy may help with arm or leg weakness. Researchers do not know the long-term outcomes of people with AFM.

Can acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) be prevented?

Since viruses likley play a role in AFM, you should take steps to help prevent getting or spreading viral infections by

  • Washing hands often with soap and water
  • Avoiding touching your face with unwashed hands
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
  • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that you frequently touch, including toys
  • Covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or upper shirt sleeve, not hands
  • Staying home when sick

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Children and Teenagers
Infections
Brain and Nerves
... on the cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid around the brain and spinal cord) Nerve conduction and electromyography (EMG) studies. These tests check ... response of muscles to the messages from the nerves. It is important that the ... brain and spinal cord illnesses (neurologist) may recommend treatments ...
Tay-Sachs Disease
National Library of Medicine

Tay-Sachs disease is a rare, inherited disease. It is a type of lipid metabolism disorder. It causes too much of a fatty substance to build up in the brain. This buildup destroys nerve cells, causing mental and physical problems. .

Infants with Tay-Sachs disease appear to develop normally for the first few months of life. Then mental and physical abilities decline. The child becomes blind, deaf, and unable to swallow. Muscles begin to waste away and paralysis sets in. Even with the best of care, children with Tay-Sachs disease usually die by age 4.

The cause is a gene mutation which is most common in Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews. To get the disease, both parents must have the gene. If they do, there is a 25% chance of the child having the disease. A blood test and prenatal tests can check for the gene or the disease.

There is no cure. Medicines and good nutrition can help some symptoms. Some children need feeding tubes.

NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke


Tay-Sachs Disease
Brain and Nerves
Genetics/Birth Defects
... a fatty substance to build up in the brain. This buildup destroys nerve cells, causing mental and physical problems. . Infants with ...
Progressive Supranuclear Palsy
National Library of Medicine
Steele-Richardson-Olszewski Syndrome
PSP
Richardson-Steele-Olszewski syndrome
What is progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP)?

Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) is a rare brain disease. It happens because of damage to nerve cells in the brain. PSP affects your movement, including control of your walking and balance. It also affects your thinking and eye movement.

PSP is progressive, which means that it gets worse over time.

What causes progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP)?

The cause of PSP is unknown. In rare cases, the cause is a mutation in a certain gene.

One sign of PSP is abnormal clumps of tau in nerve cells in the brain. Tau is a protein in your nervous system, including in nerve cells. Some other diseases also cause a buildup of tau in the brain, including Alzheimer's disease.

Who is at risk for progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP)?

PSP usually affects people over 60, but in some cases it can start earlier. It is more common in men.

What are the symptoms of progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP)?

Symptoms are very different in each person, but they may include

  • A loss of balance while walking. This is often the first symptom.
  • Speech problems
  • Trouble swallowing
  • A blurring of vision and problems controlling eye movement
  • Changes in mood and behavior, including depression and apathy (a loss of interest and enthusiasm)
  • Mild dementia
How is progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP0 diagnosed?

There is no specific test for PSP. It can be difficult to diagnose, because the symptoms are similar to other diseases such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.

To make a diagnosis, your health care provider will take your medical history and do physical and neurological exams. You may have an MRI or other imaging tests.

What are the treatments for progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP)?

There is currently no effective treatment for PSP. Medicines may reduce some symptoms. Some non-drug treatments, such as walking aids and special glasses, may also help. People with severe swallowing problems may need gastrostomy. This is a surgery to insert a feeding tube into the stomach.

PSP gets worse over time. Many people become severely disabled within three to five years after getting it. PSP isn't life-threatening on its own. It can still be be dangerous, because it increases your risk of pneumonia, choking from swallowing problems, and injuries from falling. But with good attention to medical and nutritional needs, many people with PSP can live 10 or more years after the first symptoms of the disease.

NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke


Supranuclear Palsy, Progressive
Brain and Nerves
... PSP)? Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) is a rare brain disease. It happens because of damage to nerve cells in the brain. PSP affects your movement, ...
Dementia
National Library of Medicine
Senility
What is dementia?

Dementia is a loss of mental functions that is severe enough to affect your daily life and activities. These functions include

  • Memory
  • Language skills
  • Visual perception (your ability to make sense of what you see)
  • Problem solving
  • Trouble with everyday tasks
  • The ability to focus and pay attention

It is normal to become a bit more forgetful as you age. But dementia is not a normal part of aging. It is a serious disorder which interferes with your daily life.

What are the types of dementia?

The most common types of dementia are known as neurodegenerative disorders. These are diseases in which the cells of the brain stop working or die. They include

  • Alzheimer's disease, which is the most common form of dementia among older people. People with Alzheimer's have plaques and tangles in their brain. These are abnormal buildups of different proteins. Beta-amyloid protein clumps up and forms plaques in between your brain cells. Tau protein builds up and forms tangles inside the nerve cells of your brain. There is also a loss of connection between nerve cells in the brain.
  • Lewy body dementia, which causes movement symptoms along with dementia. Lewy bodies are abnormal deposits of a protein in the brain.
  • Frontotemporal disorders, which cause changes to certain parts of the brain:
    • Changes in the frontal lobe lead to behavioral symptoms
    • Changes in the temporal lobe lead to language and emotional disorders
  • Vascular dementia, which involves changes to the brain's blood supply. It is often caused by a stroke or atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) in the brain.
  • Mixed dementia, which is a combination of two or more types of dementia. For example, some people have both Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia.

Other conditions can cause dementia or dementia-like symptoms, including

  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare brain disorder
  • Huntington's disease, an inherited, progressive brain disease
  • Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), caused by repeated traumatic brain injury
  • HIV-associated dementia (HAD)
Who is at risk for dementia?

Certain factors can raise your risk for developing dementia, including

  • Aging. This is the biggest risk factor for dementia.
  • Smoking
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Having close family members who have dementia
What are the symptoms of dementia?

The symptoms of dementia can vary, depending on which parts of the brain are affected. Often, forgetfulness is the first symptom. Dementia also causes problems with the ability to think, problem solve, and reason. For example, people with dementia may

  • Get lost in a familiar neighborhood
  • Use unusual words to refer to familiar objects
  • Forget the name of a close family member or friend
  • Forget old memories
  • Need help doing tasks that they used to do by themselves

Some people with dementia cannot control their emotions and their personalities may change. They may become apathetic, meaning that they are no longer interested in normal daily activities or events. They may lose their inhibitions and stop caring about other peoples' feelings.

Certain types of dementia can also cause problems with balance and movement.

The stages of dementia range from mild to severe. In the mildest stage, it is just beginning to affect a person's functioning. In the most severe stage, the person is completely dependent on others for care.

How is dementia diagnosed?

To make a diagnosis, your health care provider

  • Will ask about your medical history
  • Will do a physical exam
  • Will check your thinking, memory, and language abilities
  • May do tests, such as blood tests, genetic tests, and brain scans
  • May do a mental health evaluation to see whether a mental disorder is contributing to your symptoms
What are the treatments for dementia?

There is no cure for most types of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease and Lewy body dementia. Treatments may help to maintain mental function longer, manage behavioral symptoms, and slow down the symptoms of disease. They may include

  • Medicines may temporarily improve memory and thinking or slow down their decline. They only work in some people. Other medicines can treat symptoms such as anxiety, depression, sleep problems, and muscle stiffness. Some of these medicines can cause strong side effects in people with dementia. It is important to talk to your health care provider about which medicines will be safe for you.
  • Occupational therapy to help find ways to more easily do everyday activities
  • Speech therapy to help with swallowing difficulties and trouble speaking loudly and clearly
  • Mental health counseling to help people with dementia and their families learn how to manage difficult emotions and behaviors. It can also help them plan for the future.
  • Music or art therapy to reduce anxiety and improve well-being
Can dementia be prevented?

Researchers have not found a proven way to prevent dementia. Living a healthy lifestyle might influence some of your risk factors for dementia.


Dementia
Mental Health and Behavior
Older Adults
Brain and Nerves
... clumps up and forms plaques in between your brain cells. Tau protein builds up and forms tangles inside the nerve cells of your brain. There is also a ...
Guillain-Barre Syndrome
National Library of Medicine
Acute idiopathic polyneuritis
Acute inflammatory polyneuropathy
Infectious polyneuritis
Landry-Guillain-Barre syndrome

Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare disorder that causes your immune system to attack your peripheral nervous system (PNS). The PNS nerves connect your brain and spinal cord with the rest of your body. Damage to these nerves makes it hard for them to transmit signals. As a result, your muscles have trouble responding to your brain. No one knows what causes the syndrome. Sometimes it is triggered by an infection, surgery, or a vaccination.

The first symptom is usually weakness or a tingling feeling in your legs. The feeling can spread to your upper body. In severe cases, you become almost paralyzed. This is life-threatening. You might need a respirator to breathe. Symptoms usually worsen over a period of weeks and then stabilize.

Guillain-Barre can be hard to diagnose. Possible tests include nerve tests and a spinal tap. Most people recover. Recovery can take a few weeks to a few years. Treatment can help symptoms, and may include medicines or a procedure called plasma exchange.

NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke


Guillain-Barre Syndrome
Brain and Nerves
... attack your peripheral nervous system (PNS). The PNS nerves connect your brain and spinal cord with the rest of your body. Damage to these nerves makes it hard for them to transmit signals. ...
Peripheral Nerve Disorders
National Library of Medicine
Neuropathy
Neuritis
Peripheral neuritis
Peripheral neuropathy

Your peripheral nerves are the ones outside your brain and spinal cord. Like static on a telephone line, peripheral nerve disorders distort or interrupt the messages between the brain and the rest of the body.

There are more than 100 kinds of peripheral nerve disorders. They can affect one nerve or many nerves. Some are the result of other diseases, like diabetic nerve problems. Others, like Guillain-Barre syndrome, happen after a virus infection. Still others are from nerve compression, like carpal tunnel syndrome or thoracic outlet syndrome. In some cases, like complex regional pain syndrome and brachial plexus injuries, the problem begins after an injury. Some people are born with peripheral nerve disorders.

Symptoms often start gradually, and then get worse. They include

  • Numbness
  • Pain
  • Burning or tingling
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sensitivity to touch

Treatment aims to treat any underlying problem, reduce pain and control symptoms.

NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke


Peripheral Nerve Injuries
Peripheral Nervous System Diseases
Brain and Nerves
Your peripheral nerves are the ones outside your brain and spinal cord. Like static on a telephone line, peripheral nerve disorders distort or interrupt the messages between ...