Brain Disorders

Written by Brindles Lee Macon and Marijane Leonard | Published on July 16, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

Overview

Your brain is the control center of your body. It is a part of the neurological system, a complex system that includes the spinal cord and a vast network of nerves and neurons that control and implement the functions you do every day. Brain disorders occur when your brain is damaged by injury, disease, or health conditions.

What Are the Symptoms of Brain Disorders?

The symptoms of brain disorders typically depend on the cause of the condition. Brain disorders may affect the main areas of your brain that control how you move, think, and behave. Some tumors can constrict the blood vessels in your brain.

The following are some common symptoms brain disorders may present:

  • confusion or problems concentrating
  • headaches or migraines
  • seizures (convulsions)
  • memory problems
  • change in the way you normally behave
  • problems with your vision (double vision, for example)
  • lack of muscle control
  • vomiting or nausea

What Causes Brain Disorders?

The causes of brain disorders vary with the type of disorder you experience

The following are causes of brain disorders:

  • trauma to the brain
  • stroke (restricted or reduced oxygen and blood in the brain that leads to cellular death)
  • viral infections (viruses may cause inflammation and swelling in the brain’s tissue)
  • disease and cancer
  • abnormal growths (tumors)
  • inherited conditions that affect the brain
  • change in your brain’s electrical pathways (communication between neurons)

Who Is at Risk For Brain Disorders?

You may be at risk for a brain disorder if you:

  • have blunt trauma to the head
  • have a family history of brain disorders or disease
  • have a viral infection
  • have a stroke
  • smoke tobacco products
  • stop breathing (can prevent oxygen from reaching the brain)

Types of Brain Disorders

There are many types of brain disorders, and they can change the way your brain commands the rest of your body.

Brain Injuries

Brain injuries are often caused by blunt trauma. Injury can damage tissue, neurons (messengers within the brain), and nerves that transmit information from the brain to your body. This can cause changes in how your brain communicates with the rest of your body.

Brain Tumors

Tumors can develop in the brain’s tissue and cause many problems, including preventing blood circulation in the brain. These growths may be cancerous or benign.

Degenerative Diseases

Degenerative diseases can affect the brain in many ways. They can change your personality, cause confusion, or destroy your brain’s tissue and nerves. Some brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, may manifest as you age and slowly impair your memory and thought processes. Other diseases, such as Tay-Sachs disease, begin at an early age. Tay-Sachs disease affects a child’s mental and physical capabilities.

Mental Health Conditions

Mental health conditions change your behavior patterns. Certain types of mental health conditions may be chronic or acute. Depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder are three brain disorders that may become chronic conditions.

Diagnosing Brain Disorders

Your primary physician may refer you to a specialist in the neurological field. This specialist may perform a neurological exam to check your vision, hearing, and balance.

The doctor might also use imaging technology—such as a computed tomography (CT) scan—to take images of your brain. Other diagnostic imaging tools include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET).

In addition, your neurologist might take and study fluid from your brain and spinal cord as a way to locate bleeding in the brain, infection, and other abnormal occurrences.

Treating Brain Disorders

Treatment is based on the doctor’s findings, diagnosis, and your overall health. Your doctor might combine treatments to improve your condition.

Medication

If you have swelling or inflammation in your brain, medications to reduce these symptoms may be used.

For mental health and mood disorders, such as depression, psychotropic drugs may be prescribed to control your behavior.

For degenerative conditions that cause the loss of muscle control and movement, drugs that help decrease the symptoms may be options.

Surgery

Surgery may be used to remove a brain tumor or damaged tissue or to drain excess fluid caused by infection. Sometimes brain surgery is done to remove a sample of brain tissue or a tumor for diagnostic purposes. The samples are examined for cancer, disease, and other abnormal findings.

Long-Term Outlook

Your doctor may require follow-up visits to monitor your health and to see how well your treatments are working. Some brain disorders might require long-term care to manage the symptoms and to prevent further complications.

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