Guide To Serious Nervous System Disorders

November 5, 2023

The nervous system is responsible for the coordination and regulation of an individual's body activities. There are two primary divisions of the nervous system: the peripheral and central nervous systems. The peripheral nervous system consists of all of the nerves and neural elements around the body that are not part of the spinal cord and brain. The central nervous system refers to all the nerves and neural components in the spinal cord and brain. Other elements of the nervous system include the ears, smell sensory organs, skin sensory receptors, eyes, taste sensory organs, and muscle sensory receptors.

Nervous system disorders mean there is an issue with the function or structure of something in the nervous system. Treating nervous system issues often means taking medications, such as anti-seizure meds and corticosteroids. Plasma exchange and physical therapy for nervous system disorders are also common.

Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive neurological disorder. It causes an individual's brain cells to degenerate. Alzheimer's disease is the result of lifestyle, genetic, and environmental factors that damage the brain tissues over time. The hallmark symptom of Alzheimer's disease is memory loss, beginning with forgetting conversations and recent events. Eventually, an affected individual will start to repeat questions and statements, misplace possessions, get lost in familiar places, and forget the names of everyday objects. They will also forget the names of family members and be unable to put together the right words to express what they want to say. Multitasking becomes difficult, and an inability to concentrate develops. The ability to make reasonable judgments and decisions deteriorates, and routine activities become difficult.

An Alzheimer's disease diagnosis is made with a neurological exam, lab testing, and mental status tests. Neuropsychological testing and brain imaging are also necessary. Treatment includes medications to slow the disease's progression and supportive care for mental and behavioral symptoms.

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy causes an individual to be unable to maintain their posture and balance. Major causes of cerebral palsy are brain damage when the brain is developing as well as abnormal brain development. There are four primary classifications of cerebral palsy: spastic cerebral palsy, dyskinetic cerebral palsy, ataxic cerebral palsy, and mixed cerebral palsy.

Symptoms range depending on the age of the patient. Infants may feel stiff or floppy, overextend their neck or back, or experience a head-lag upon being picked up. Infants older than six months may not be able to bring their hands together, roll over in either direction, or bring their hands to their mouth. They may only reach out with one hand as well. Infants and toddlers over ten months old may have a lopsided crawl, drag one hand and leg, scoot around on buttocks, and will not crawl on all fours. Developmental screening and medical evaluations are used to diagnose cerebral palsy. Treatment may include medication, braces, physical therapy, surgery, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is a neurological disease where an individual's immune system inappropriately attacks the myelin covering around the nerves. This causes communication problems between different parts of the brain. Issues communicating between the brain and the rest of the body also occur. Symptoms range from one patient to the next. They include weakness or numbness in the limbs on one side of the body, an unsteady gait, poor coordination, and a persistent tremor. Other symptoms include bladder function issues, bowel function issues, dizziness, fatigue, slurred speech, blurry vision, pain with eye movement, and double vision.

Doctors make a multiple sclerosis diagnosis by eliminating other diseases with a physical examination, blood tests, spinal tap, MRI scans, and evoked potential tests. Multiple sclerosis treatments focus on slowing the disease's progression and managing symptoms. Treating multiple sclerosis attacks includes plasma exchange and corticosteroids. Treatments to slow progression include glatiramer acetate, beta interferons, muscle relaxers, and physical therapy.

Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease causes an individual to have difficulty with movement. It results in stiffness, shaking, difficulty walking, balance issues, and poor coordination. Parkinson's disease occurs due to decreasing dopamine levels in the brain over time due to the death of the cells responsible for producing dopamine. The most common symptoms include trembling in the hands and legs, limb stiffness, trembling in the arms and jaw, stiffness of the trunk, slowed movements, and impaired coordination. Parkinson's disease patients also encounter poor balance, frequent falls, depression, urinary problems, skin problems, sleep disruptions, constipation, poor handwriting, and speech problems.

Doctors diagnose Parkinson's disease through a physical exam, medical history, genetic testing, agility evaluation, muscle tone evaluation, gait and balance evaluation, and a DaTscan. Treatment for Parkinson's disease includes medication, deep brain stimulation, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurological disease that keeps an individual's motor neurons from functioning properly. The motor neurons contained within the spinal cord and brain deteriorate and die in ALS patients. Early symptoms include stiff and weak muscles that make fine movements difficult. Examples of the affected fine movements include turning a key and buttoning a piece of clothing. Symptoms progress into frequent tripping and falling, trouble swallowing, slurred speech, muscle cramping, muscle twitching, inappropriate yawning, weakness in the leg, cognitive changes, and behavioral changes.

Eventually, the muscle weakness progresses to the diaphragm and other muscles that allow an individual to breathe properly. Supportive care with a breathing machine is necessary at this point. An ALS diagnosis is made using an electromyogram, nerve conduction study, blood testing, urine testing, spinal tap, and muscle biopsy. Treatment involves medication, physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, nutritional support, psychological support, and breathing support.


Epilepsy causes abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Patients may have seizures and experience periods of abnormal behavior or sensations. Depending on the type of seizure a patient experiences, they could lose consciousness and display fast, jerking, and repetitive motions of the arms and legs. Some seizures involve an individual simply staring blankly into space for a few minutes.

To diagnose epilepsy, doctors perform a complete neurological exam. They will also do an electroencephalogram to investigate the patient's brain wave activity. Patients often have a brain scan to check for masses or structural abnormalities that may cause seizures. Prescription medications are necessary to treat epilepsy, and patients may have to take several different types to control their seizures. Levetiracetam, topiramate, and valproic acid are some of the medications doctors often consider prescribing. Patients with severe epilepsy that is not well-controlled with medication may need to have surgical intervention.

Muscular Dystrophy

Muscular dystrophy is characterized by progressive weakness and loss of muscle mass. Duchenne muscular dystrophy is the most common form of this condition, and it occurs more frequently in boys. Patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy typically display symptoms during childhood. Other forms may have no symptoms until adulthood. Myotonic muscular dystrophy is the most common form of adult-onset muscular dystrophy. Symptoms of muscular dystrophy vary by type. They may include frequent falls, walking on the toes, difficulties running and jumping, and difficulty rising from a lying or sitting position. Patients may have muscle pain and stiffness, and the calf muscles may be enlarged as well. Muscular dystrophy sometimes causes learning disabilities. To diagnose muscular dystrophy, doctors may perform genetic testing, enzyme tests, electromyography, and muscle biopsy.

There is currently no cure for this condition. Treatment focuses on enabling the patient to remain mobile for as long as possible. Medications such as eteplirsen may be considered for patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Corticosteroids might be recommended to delay the progression of some forms. Physical therapy helps the patient keep joints as flexible as possible. Braces are used to improve mobility and decrease the rate at which muscle contractures progress. Some patients could require breathing assistance.


Meningitis occurs when the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord become inflamed. Viruses and bacterial infections are the most common causes of meningitis. However, fungi, chemical irritation, allergies to medications, or cancer can also cause it. Some types of viral and bacterial meningitis are contagious. They can be transmitted to others through close contact, sneezing, or coughing. Bacterial meningitis symptoms are typically the most severe. Symptoms in adults include a stiff neck, sensitivity to light, skin rashes, headaches, fever, and lethargy. These symptoms usually appear suddenly. It is crucial to seek emergency medical care right away.

To diagnose meningitis, doctors will need to perform a lumbar puncture. They may also do blood cultures, chest x-rays, and a CT scan. Treatment for meningitis depends on the cause. Bacterial meningitis requires emergency hospitalization so the patient can receive intravenous antibiotics. While viral meningitis might resolve on its own, some patients will still need intravenous antiviral medicines. Cases of fungal meningitis are treated with antifungal agents. A vaccine is available to protect patients against several types of bacterial meningitis.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome

Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare condition in which the immune system attacks some of the nerves located outside the brain and spinal cord. The exact cause of this condition is currently unknown. However, it seems most cases begin in the days or weeks that follow a viral infection of the respiratory or gastrointestinal systems. Surgery may trigger this syndrome in certain patients, and some cases may also develop after infection with the Zika virus. In mild cases, brief weakness might be the only symptom. Severe cases could result in paralysis. Other symptoms include swallowing and speaking difficulties, eye muscle weakness, coordination problems, and bladder control issues. Pain could develop, and it is typically more severe at night. Patients might notice pins and needles sensations in the hands or feet, and heart rate and blood pressure abnormalities could develop. Symptoms may increase in severity over hours or weeks. The condition could progress so much that the patient is unable to use certain muscle groups and becomes paralyzed.

To diagnose this syndrome, doctors will start by performing a physical examination that includes checking the patient's reflexes. Guillain-Barre syndrome patients often have absent reflexes in the arms, and reflexes in the knees could also be absent. Nerve conduction tests and lumbar punctures help confirm the diagnosis. Patients with this syndrome are typically treated in the intensive care unit at the hospital. They may receive plasma exchange or high-dose immunoglobulin therapy. These treatments are most effective if they begin within two weeks of symptom onset. After being discharged from the hospital, most patients are transferred to a rehabilitation unit to receive physical and occupational therapy.

Subarachnoid Hemorrhage

A subarachnoid hemorrhage develops when there is bleeding in the subarachnoid space. This is the area between the brain and the surrounding membrane. The hemorrhage has a sudden onset. The first symptom is usually a severe headache that may be accompanied by nausea or vomiting. Patients experiencing this hemorrhage might briefly lose consciousness. In some cases, patients may feel a popping sensation in their head just before the hemorrhage begins. Seizures, confusion, and numbness throughout the entire body could occur after this.

Serious head injuries such as falls and injuries from car accidents could lead to a subarachnoid hemorrhage. Blood thinners or an underlying medical condition such as an arteriovenous malformation can also cause this condition. This condition is considered a medical emergency. At the hospital, doctors will perform a physical examination and take CT scans or MRI scans. A cerebral angiography test may be performed as well. Surgical procedures will be carried out to reduce the buildup of pressure in the brain and to stop the bleeding.

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