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Brain Disorders

Brain Disorders

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Your brain is one of the most important organs of your body. As the center of your neurological network, it allows your body to operate properly so you can think, move, and speak. Unfortunately, there are a number of disorders that can affect this complex and vital bundle of tissue. Below, we explain some of the most common conditions so that you can more easily prevent, identify, and treat them.

Alzheimer's Disease

This is a progressive brain disorder that impairs sufferers' cognitive function, most notably causing short- and long-term memory loss (short-term memory loss is more common). Alzheimer's disease causes the gradual deterioration and destruction of brain cells, making it a subset of dementia. When examined microscopically, most brain cells affected by Alzheimer's exhibit plaques, or added bundles of protein, and tangles, or contorted protein structures. Both of these prevent nutrients and communications from passing through the tissue properly. Patients who suffer from Alzheimer's disease often experience disorientation, forgetfulness, personality changes, mood swings, and delusions. They may also have difficulty performing daily tasks, such as making calculations, speaking, and writing.

ALS/Lou Gehrig's Disease

Patients who suffer from ALS often lose the ability to control their muscles.

ALS, or "amyotrophic lateral sclerosis," is often referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease, named for the well-known baseball star that suffered from this condition. During ALS, the motor neurons, nerve cells that transmit information from the brain and spinal cord to the muscles, begin to break down, harden, and scar. Without functioning motor neurons to bring brain messages and nutrients to the muscles, the tissue degenerates. Patients who suffer from ALS often lose the ability to control their muscles, beginning at their extremities and extending throughout the body. ALS often begins with impaired motor function and muscle cramping, but can ultimately lead to difficulty speaking, swallowing, and even breathing.

Anencephaly

Anencephaly is a rare but very serious brain disorder that occurs in babies. This condition falls under the heading of a neural tube disorder, meaning that it affects the structure that encloses the brain and spinal cord. During the first month of pregnancy, a healthy fetus should develop a closed neural tube to protect his or her future brain tissue. However, babies with anencephaly do not have fully formed neural tubes. This prevents the front section of the brain from growing, as well as the cerebrum, which allows for coordination and thought. About one in 5,000 babies is born with anencephaly and most die soon after birth. Mothers can reduce the risk of anencephaly by avoiding drinking and smoking, as well as taking folic acid supplements.

Apraxia

Brain injury, lesions, stroke, or other neurological diseases can lead to damage in the cerebrum, which controls voluntary activities such as thought and movement. Patients with apraxia suffer from diminished motor planning and function, which can manifest in a variety of ways. Apraxia might interfere specifically with facial movement or speech, or it could only affect the limbs. The primary treatment for apraxia is physical therapy to help rehabilitate motor control. Patients sometimes spontaneously recover from apraxia. Neuroscientists do not fully understand the underlying causes for, dynamics of, or potential alternative treatments for this disorder.

Arnold-Chiari Malformations

An illustration of Arnold-Chiari malformations

The cerebellum is the posterior segment of the brain that regulates balance and allows for muscular coordination. Approximately one out of every thousand babies is born an abnormal cerebellum structure, or an Arnold-Chiari malformation. This disorder usually occurs due to irregular fetal growth, but patients can also develop malformations due to toxic exposure, infection, or neurological trauma. Arnold-Chiari malformations can be asymptomatic, but they can also create symptoms such as ocular distortion, headache, dizziness, numbness, muscular frailty, imbalance, and difficulty coordinating. Arnold-Chiari malformations do not require treatment if they do not present unpleasant symptoms, but surgery is the only way to correct this condition if necessary.

Ataxia

Temporary or permanent damage to the cerebellum can interfere with muscle control and coordination, causing ataxia. Patients who suffer from a head injury, vitamin deficiency, or chickenpox may suffer from acute ataxia, while those with a history of alcohol abuse, certain brain cancers, toxic exposure, stroke, and other neurological issues may experience a chronic form of this disorder. Ataxia can impair eyesight, food and water consumption, and walking. The treatment for this condition depends on the patient's distinctive symptoms and medical history, but patients often benefit from adaptive tools and physical therapy.

ADHD

Millions of children and adults suffer from ADHD, or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Neurological specialists are unsure of the exact causes for this condition, but they believe it may be related to hereditary conditions, nervous system function, and early brain development. People who suffer from ADHD have difficulty focusing, exhibit impulsive behavior, are overly energetic in inappropriate situations, and often fidget, among other related symptoms. Doctors often prescribe stimulant psychiatric drugs to treat ADHD, but these may lead to heart conditions or suicidal thoughts. ADHD patients may also benefit from behavioral modification and psychological therapy.

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Brain Hemorrhage

Blood vessel disorders, head injuries, hypertension, blood conditions, brain tumors, and liver disease can lead to a brain hemorrhage, a type of stroke in which an artery in the brain ruptures, destroying the brain cells around it. A brain hemorrhage may occur suddenly or gradually. This condition can cause headache, seizures, limb weakness, lethargy, numbness, loss of coordination, nausea, vomiting, sensory changes, and other symptoms. Depending on the severity of the brain hemorrhage, it can be treated with oral medications to control related symptoms, or surgery may be required to reduce inflammation and prevent further damage.

Brain Tumors

Brain tumors are clumps of abnormal tissue that form in the brain. These growths can be benign or cancerous, but they may cause brain damage in either case. Neuroscientists are still researching the exact causes for brain tumors, but age and radiation exposure are risk factors. Brain tumors can cause headaches, eyesight changes, balance problems, memory loss, difficulty concentrating, seizures, and impaired motor control. Treatment typically involves surgery to remove the tumor or, if this is not possible, chemotherapy and radiation to eliminate it. Patients recovering from brain tumors often undergo physical, speech, and occupational therapy to regain their abilities.

Neuroscientists are still researching the exact causes for brain tumors.

Carotid Artery Stenosis

The carotid arteries are tubes on either side of the neck that transmit oxygenated blood to the forebrain, which allows for speech, motor function, sensation, and personality. If cholesterol deposits or white blood cells accumulate in the carotid arteries, they can narrow or obstruct them, causing stenosis. Carotid artery stenosis can put patients at risk for stroke, in which insufficient blood supply shuts down brain function for several minutes. This condition can be disabling or even life threatening. Doctors typically treat carotid artery stenosis by recommending lifestyle changes (such as a lower cholesterol diet), medications, or surgery to open the arteries.

Cerebral Aneurysm

An illustration of a cerebral aneurysm

Brain cancer, head trauma, hypertension, infections, blood vessel disorders, hereditary conditions, drug abuse, circulatory issues, and other conditions can lead to cerebral aneurysms. These are weakened blood vessels that swell with blood. Some aneurysms pose little to no risk, but if the blood vessel bursts, it can damage brain cells, cause nerve damage, or even cause a stroke. Common symptoms of cerebral aneurysms include headaches, paralysis, changes in eyesight, and numbness, although they often present no signs until they rupture. Problematic cerebral aneurysms typically require surgical intervention.

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is actually a subset of related brain disorders that damage young children's brains, interfering with their development and impairing their motor skills. Most patients begin to experience cerebral palsy symptoms by age three. This condition does not worsen with time, but it can cause permanent issues with speech, hearing, learning, and eyesight, as well as put patients at risk for seizures. Infection, insufficient oxygen, disease, and injury during pregnancy and early life can cause cerebral palsy. Depending on the particulars of the case, doctors may treat cerebral policy with physical therapy, medication, adaptive devices, or brain surgery.

Colpocephaly

In some patients, abnormal nervous system function leads to enlargement of the occipital horns, which are chambers near the back of the brain. This condition develops in fetuses during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy, as white matter brain tissue fails to coalesce properly. The most common and noticeable symptom of colpocephaly is seizures, which usually begin at an early age. This condition can also impair mobility, cause muscle spasms, and create learning disabilities. Doctors typically treat the symptoms of colpocephaly with anti-seizure medications and special education.

Concussion

A head injury can shake your brain within your skull, damaging it and causing a concussion. As a result of bruising, nerve damage, and bleeding, patients who suffer from concussions can experience vomiting, nausea, exhaustion, a dazed feeling, memory loss, headache, confusion, and tinnitus. While many patients can recover well from concussions, they can also cause permanent or even fatal damage, so it is important to see a doctor if you experience signs of concussion. The treatment for concussion typically includes getting plenty of rest and taking painkillers as needed.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease

This condition leads to rapid-onset dementia.

This is a fatal brain disorder that results from irregular protein formation. Patients can develop these infected proteins spontaneously, as a result of hereditary conditions, or due to exposure during surgery. Cruetzfield-Jakob disease is called a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy because it causes tiny holes in the damaged brain tissue. This condition leads to rapid-onset dementia, which involves memory loss, changes in personality, eyesight issues, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and mobility issues. At this time, Cruetzfield-Jakob disease is untreatable, so doctors simply provide palliative care to keep patients as comfortable as they can.

Dandy-Walker Syndrome

This brain disorder involves abnormal development of the cerebellum and surrounding cavity. Patients with Dandy-Walker Syndrome typically lack the middle portion of the cerebellum, form cysts in the space around it, and have an enlarged skull around the cerebellum. Symptoms typically manifest in young children, and can include diminished motor function, irritability, muscle weakness, convulsions, vomiting, facial nerve issues, and a bulge at the back of the head. In some cases, Dandy-Walker Syndrome may present only mild symptoms and, rarely, none at all. Doctors usually treat this condition by managing the related symptoms, providing physical, speech, or occupational therapy, or, if needed, performing surgery to minimize inflammation.

Dementia

The primary cause of dementia is Alzheimer's disease.

Rather than describing a specific brain disorder, dementia is actually a class of symptoms that can be caused by a variety of neurological conditions. Patients with dementia suffer from memory loss, difficulty completing regular tasks, disorientation, personality changes, paranoia, agitation, and hallucinations. The primary cause of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, followed by vascular dementia, which occurs as a result of a prior stroke. Dementia is usually incurable, but doctors can help patients manage symptoms with various prescription medications, occupational therapy, or behavioral changes.

Encephalitis

Due to a virus, bacterial infection, or systemic inflammation, brain tissue can become inflamed, causing encephalitis. Fortunately, most patients who experience encephalitis simply experience flu-like symptoms, such as a bad headache or fever. However, in severe cases, it can cause sensory issues, limited mobility, disorientation, impaired cognitive function, or even seizures. Milder cases of encephalitis may cause no symptoms. The treatment administered depends on the degree of the encephalitis. Minimal swelling could be resolved with rest, fluids, and anti-inflammatory medications, while more advanced cases may require antiviral drugs, assisted breathing devices, and various therapies.

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Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a collection of brain disorders, all of which are characterized by epileptic seizures. During these episodes, which can be as brief as a moment or last for several minutes, excessive or irregular neural activity overloads the brain, causing convulsions, sensory disturbances, and a loss of awareness, among other symptoms. A person can be diagnosed with epilepsy when he or she experiences two or more seizures. Epilepsy cannot be cured, but this disorder can be managed with a customized treatment program of medications and surgery, if necessary.

Huntington's Disease

This is a congenital disorder that leads to the progressive deterioration of brain nerve cells. In most cases, this condition manifests in patients' 30s or 40s, but it may appear earlier. Huntington's disease can cause a host of varied symptoms, including mobility issues, impaired cognitive function, psychiatric disorders, reduced academic performance, behavioral concerns, and seizures. Unfortunately, the progression of Huntington's disease cannot be stopped, but doctors may prescribe drugs or forms of therapy to alleviate symptoms.

Hydrocephalus

This condition can affect people of all ages, but can be particularly dangerous in infants and toddlers.

Cerebrospinal fluid is vital to proper brain functioning. This liquid shields the brain from injury, keeps the organ afloat within the skull, and helps to clean out debris. However, if the cerebral ventricles become blocked, the blood vessels don't properly absorb this material, or the body makes too much cerebrospinal fluid, it can accumulate within the brain. This can lead to undue cerebral pressure, or hydrocephalus. This condition can affect people of all ages, but can be particularly dangerous in infants and toddlers. Common hydrocephalus symptoms include a swollen head, irritability, seizures, exhaustion, headache, ocular distortions, bladder problems, memory loss, impaired cognitive function, poor balance, and respiratory issues. Doctors typically treat hydrocephalus by surgically rebalancing brain pressure, but they may also recommend physical therapy.

Memory Problems

Since proper brain function is crucial for a variety of cognitive functions, brain disorders often lead to memory problems. For example, Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia often cause memory loss or impairment, as can concussions and Cruetzfield-Jacob disease, among others. Memory problems can affect short- or long-term recollections, as well as patient's ability to engage in routine activities. Neurologists treat memory problems by identifying their cause and prescribing appropriate medications, surgery, behavioral modification, or therapy.

Meningitis

An illustration of meningitis

The protective membranes around the spinal cord and brain are called meninges. Due to systemic viral, bacterial, or fungal infection, these can become swollen, causing meningitis. This condition can be chronic or acute and typically causes flu-like symptoms, such as fever, extreme headache, light sensitivity, loss of appetite, vomiting, nausea, and exhaustion. Meningitis can also cause mental confusion, difficulty focusing, and even seizures. Treating meningitis requires resolving the infection that precipitated this condition, which could include antibacterial, antiviral, or antifungal medications, as well as any necessary procedures or therapies to alleviate symptoms.

Migraine

Migraines are severe headaches that can cause a localized throbbing sensation, severe sound and light sensitivity, nausea, blurred eyesight, and vomiting. They are often chronic and can interfere with patients' lives, especially if they occur frequently. Neurologists are not entirely sure what causes migraines, but they suspect that it is a combination of congenital, environmental, and neurochemical factors. Migraines may also be triggered by specific atmospheric or biological conditions. To treat migraines, neurologists typically prescribe both preventive oral medications and painkillers. They may also recommend making lifestyle changes to avoid triggering headaches.

Moyamoya Syndrome

Moyamoya syndrome is a rare disease that affects approximately nine out of every million people. In patients with this condition, twisted blood vessels obstruct the arteries at the top and base of the brain, causing involuntary motion, vision issues, impaired speech, poor cognitive function, sensory problems, seizures, and strokes. Neurologists are still conducting research to learn more about this condition. At this time, the only viable treatment is revascularization surgery, which can reopen the arteries to allow for proper blood flow. Without this treatment, Moyamoya syndrome can cause fatal brain hemorrhages.

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus

Normal pressure hydrocephalus occurs when cerebrospinal fluid builds up gradually in the brain, usually in adults over 60 years old. This progressive increase in pressure typically causes milder symptoms, but can still interfere with speech, cognitive function, memory, and mobility. Normal pressure hydrocephalus can also interfere with bladder and limb operation. Neurologists often have difficulty accurately diagnosing this condition, since it presents symptoms similar to Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. While this condition is incurable, its symptoms can be managed with medications, therapies, and lifestyle modifications.

Stroke

An illustration of a stroke

When the blood supply to the brain becomes cut off or diminished, proper nutrients and oxygen cannot reach the tissue, causing a stroke. This is a very serious condition, since it can destroy vital brain cells and lead to death. Patients who experience spontaneous sensory changes, sudden numbness on one side of the face, inexplicable dizziness, abrupt loss of coordination, nausea and vomiting, a brief moment of unconsciousness, or a severe headache should contact emergency services immediately. Depending on the type of stroke and severity of symptoms, neurologists may prescribe oral or injected medications, procedures to deliver drugs directly to the tissue, or brain surgery. Stroke victims may also need to undergo therapy to rehabilitate their capabilities.

Tourette Syndrome

Young patients with nervous system abnormalities may develop Tourette syndrome, a disorder in which they experience uncontrollable speech or movements. The onset of this condition typically occurs between ages two and twelve. Tourette syndrome can be uncomfortable and embarrassing for patients to deal with, but it does not typically affect longevity. This disorder cannot be cured, but it can be controlled with medications and therapies. Fortunately, symptoms of Tourette syndrome also often diminish over time as patients age.

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Transient Ischemic Attack

A transient ischemic attack occurs when a blood clot forms in a brain due to high cholesterol or cerebral plaques. This prevents oxygen and nutrients from reaching the brain, causing a brief stroke-like experience that fortunately causes no long-term harm. It symptoms include disorientation, dizziness, eyesight problems, impaired speech, numbness on one side of the body, and muscular weakness. Transient ischemic attacks are relatively benign, but they are often precursors to actual strokes, so neurologists take these conditions very seriously. Neurologists typically prescribe preventive medications or surgeries to patients who have suffered from transient ischemic attacks.

Traumatic Brain Injury

Head injuries or impacts can damage the brain cells, leading to temporary or long-term disorders. Mild traumatic brain injury can result in brief loss of consciousness, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, headache, light sensitivity, memory changes, or mood swings. These conditions often require just oral medications, rest, and careful monitoring. More severe cases cause longer unconsciousness, impaired coordination, seizures, severe cognitive dysfunction, abnormal behavior, speech disorders, chronic headaches, sleep conditions, or even coma. These disorders may require emergency care, intensive observation, coma or seizure medication, diuretic treatment, or brain surgery.

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