Brain Disorders: Causes, Symptoms, and Diagnosis
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Brain Disorders

What Are Brain Disorders?

Your brain is your body’s control center. It’s part of the nervous system, which also includes the spinal cord and a large network of nerves and neurons. Together, the nervous system controls everything from your five senses to the muscles throughout your body.

When your brain is damaged, it can affect many different things, including your memory, your sensation, and even your personality. Brain disorders include any conditions or disabilities that affect your brain. This includes those conditions that are caused by illness, genetics, or traumatic injury.

This is a broad category of disorders, which vary greatly in symptoms and severity. Keep reading to learn about some of the largest categories of brain disorders.

What Are the Different Types of Brain Disorders?

 Type 1

Brain Injuries

Brain injuries are often caused by blunt trauma. Trauma can damage brain tissue, neurons, and nerves. This damage affects your brain’s ability to communicate with the rest of your body. Examples of brain injuries include:

  • hematomas
  • blood clots
  • contusions, or bruising of brain tissue
  • cerebral edema, or swelling inside the skull
  • concussions
  • strokes

Examples of the symptoms of a brain injury include:

  • vomiting
  • nausea
  • speech difficulty
  • bleeding from the ear
  • numbness
  • paralysis
  • memory loss
  • problems with concentration

Later, you may develop:

  • high blood pressure
  • a low heart rate
  • pupil dilation
  • irregular breathing

Depending on the type of injury you have, treatment might include medication, rehabilitation, or brain surgery. About half of people with severe brain injuries need surgery to remove or repair damaged tissue or to relieve pressure. People with minor brain injuries may not need any treatment beyond pain medication.

Many people with brain injuries need rehabilitation. This can include physical therapy, speech and language therapy, and psychiatry.

Learn more about concussions

Brain Tumors

Sometimes, tumors form in the brain and can be very dangerous. These are called primary brain tumors. In other cases, cancer somewhere else in your body spreads to your brain. These are called secondary or metastatic brain tumors.

Brain tumors can be either malignant (cancerous) or benign (noncancerous). Doctors classify brain tumors as grades 1, 2, 3, or 4. Higher numbers indicate more aggressive tumors. The cause of brain tumors is largely unknown. They can occur in people of any age.

Symptoms of brain tumors depend on the size and location of the tumor. The most common symptoms of brain tumors are:

  • headaches
  • seizures
  • numbness or tingling in your arms or legs
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • changes in personality
  • difficulty with movement or balance
  • changes in your hearing, speech, or vision

The type of treatment you’ll receive depends on many different factors, such as the size of the tumor and your age and overall health. The main types of treatment for brain tumors are surgery, chemotherapy (medication), and radiation therapy.

Keep reading about brain tumors

Neurodegenerative Diseases

Neurodegenerative diseases cause your brain and nerves to deteriorate over time. They can change your personality and cause confusion. They can also destroy your brain’s tissue and nerves.

Some brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, may develop as you age. They can slowly impair your memory and thought processes. Other diseases, such as Tay-Sachs disease, are genetic and begin at an early age. Other common neurodegenerative diseases include:

  • Huntington’s disease
  • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • all forms of dementia

Some of the more common symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases include:

  • memory loss
  • forgetfulness
  • apathy
  • anxiety
  • agitation
  • a loss of inhibition
  • mood changes

Neurodegenerative diseases cause permanent damage, so symptoms tend to get worse as the disease progresses. New symptoms are also likely to develop over time.

There’s no cure for neurodegenerative diseases, but treatment can still help. Treatment for these diseases tries to reduce symptoms and maintain quality of life. Treatment often involves the use of medications to control symptoms.

Learn more about Alzheimer’s disease

Mental Disorders

Mental disorders, or mental illnesses, are a large and diverse group of conditions that affect your behavior patterns. Some of the most frequently diagnosed mental disorders are:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • bipolar disorder
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • schizophrenia

The symptoms of mental disorders vary based on the condition. Different people can experience the same mental disorders very differently. You should talk to your doctor if you notice a change in your behavior, thought patterns, or moods.

The two major types of treatment for mental disorders are medication and psychotherapy. Different methods work better for different conditions. Many people find that a combination of the two is the most effective.

If you think you might have a mental disorder, it’s important to talk to your doctor to come up with a treatment plan that works for you. Don’t try to self-medicate.

What Are the Risk Factors for Brain Disorders?

Risk Factors

Brain disorders can affect anyone, but your risk factors are different for different types of brain disorders.

Traumatic brain injury is most common in children, young adults who are under 25 years old, and adults who are 65 and older.

Brain tumors can affect people at any age. Your personal risk depends on your genetics and your exposure to environmental risk factors like radiation.

Older age and family history are the most significant risk factors for neurodegenerative diseases.

Mental disorders are very common. About 1 in 5 American adults has a diagnosable mental health condition. Your risk may be higher if you:

  • have a family history of mental illness
  • have or have had traumatic or stressful life experiences
  • have a history of alcohol or drug abuse
  • have or have had a traumatic brain injury

How Are Brain Disorders Diagnosed?

Diagnosis

Your primary care physician or a neurological specialist can diagnose a brain disorder.

Your doctor will likely perform a neurological exam to check your vision, hearing, and balance. Your doctor might also get images of your brain to make a diagnosis. The most common diagnostic imaging tools are CT, MRI, and PET scans.

Your doctor might also need to study fluid from your brain and spinal cord. This helps them find bleeding in the brain, infection, and other abnormalities.

Mental health disorders are usually diagnosed based on an evaluation of your symptoms and history.

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

Outlook

The outlook depends on the type and severity of your brain disorder. Some conditions are easily treated with medication and therapy. For example, millions of people with mental disorders live perfectly normal lives.

Other disorders, like neurodegenerative diseases and some traumatic brain injuries, have no cure. People with these conditions often face permanent changes in their behavior, mental abilities, or coordination. In these cases, treatment will try to help you learn to live with your illness and retain as much independence as possible.

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