Neurological diseases are conditions that affect your nervous system. Your nervous system includes your brain and spinal cord as well as all the nerves that branch out to the rest of your body. There are many different types of nervous system diseases, each with different causes.
Your nervous system is responsible for sending signals from your brain to the rest of your body and vice versa. It’s vital for regulating many body functions as well as processing and responding to various internal and environmental factors.
There are many diseases that can impact your nervous system. This article will look at the different types of diseases and how they affect your nervous system.
While you only have one nervous system, it’s divided into two different parts. These are your:
- Central nervous system (CNS): Your CNS is made up of your brain and spinal cord. On a basic level, it takes in, analyzes, and responds to internal and environmental information. Think of it as your body’s main communication hub.
- Peripheral nervous system (PNS): Your PNS includes the rest of the nerve tissue outside of your brain and spinal cord. It helps to transmit information from your CNS to the rest of your body and vice versa. It also has two parts, which include your:
- Somatic nervous system: Your somatic nervous system sends signals from your CNS to your skeletal muscles, which allow you to react to things in your environment.
- Autonomic nervous system: Your autonomic nervous system controls your involuntary body functions, such as your heart rate, blood pressure, and digestion.
There are more than 600 diseases that can impact your nervous system, according to the National Library of Medicine. These types of diseases are also referred to as neurological diseases.
- Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias
There are many different types of neurological diseases. These are broken down by each type below, along with examples of common diseases for each type of disease.
Nervous system injuries
It’s possible to injure your nervous system. These types of injuries typically happen due to things such as accidents, sports injuries, or acts of violence.
Traumatic brain injury can lead to physical symptoms such as:
- vision loss
- loss of consciousness
It can also sometimes impact cognition, memory, and mood.
Spinal cord injuries can cause symptoms such as:
You can also injure the nerves in your PNS. This can happen when a nerve is stretched, compressed, inflamed, or lacerated (cut). Symptoms can include:
- neuropathic pain
- numbness and tingling
- muscle weakness or paralysis
Cerebrovascular disease is when blood flow to your brain is impacted. This can happen when there’s bleeding in your brain or when your brain isn’t receiving enough oxygen-rich blood.
Stroke is a common type of cerebrovascular disease. It can be caused by an interruption of blood flow to a region of your brain (ischemic stroke), such as due to a blood clot, or by bleeding in your brain (hemorrhagic stroke).
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There are also other types of cerebrovascular disease. A few examples include:
Neurodegenerative diseases are when your nerve cells stop working properly or start to die off. In some cases, this may happen due to the accumulation of inflammatory cells or abnormal proteins in your brain. The underlying cause of these changes isn’t known.
These conditions are typically progressive. This means they continue to get worse as time passes.
Some examples of neurogenerative diseases include:
- Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia
- Parkinson’s disease
- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
Headaches are very common. Most people experience them from time to time. But when your headaches are severe, occur frequently, or are persistent, it’s possible that you may have a headache disorder.
Generally speaking, headaches happen when pain-sensitive nerves react to a trigger, sending pain signals to your brain. Examples of headache triggers, include but aren’t limited to:
- lack of sleep
- the consumption of certain foods or beverages
Examples of common types of headache disorders include:
Headache disorders can also be secondary, which means they happen due to another condition. Some examples of causes of secondary headache disorders are stroke, brain tumors, and head injuries.
A seizure happens when there’s a period of uncontrolled electrical activity in your brain. When this happens, it can lead to involuntary movements, thoughts, or sensations. Some people may also lose awareness or consciousness.
Myelin is a protective layer that covers nerve cells in your CNS. In demyelinating diseases, myelin is damaged. This can lead to symptoms such as muscle weakness, unusual sensations, and problems with vision.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an example of a demyelinating disease that you’ve probably heard of. It happens when your immune system mistakenly attacks myelin. What causes the immune system to behave in this way is unknown.
Other examples of demyelinating diseases include:
- transverse myelitis
- Guillain-Barré syndrome
- diabetic neuropathy
- acute disseminated encephalomyelitis
- neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorders
Some types of neurological diseases can be inherited. That means that it can be passed down from one or both of your parents.
Inherited neurological disorders can impact your nervous system and health in many different ways. Some examples of inherited neurological diseases and their general symptoms include:
- Huntington’s disease: Huntington’s disease causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in your brain, leading to worsening problems with cognition, movement, and behavior.
- Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease: Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease damages your PNS, causing muscle weakness, atrophy, and problems with your gait.
- Wilson disease: Wilson disease causes copper to accumulate in your brain and other organs, leading to problems with your coordination, movement, or speech.
- Tay-Sachs disease: Tay-Sachs disease is when an excess of fatty substances accumulates in your brain and nerves, causing muscle weakness, seizures, and vision and speech loss.
- Friedrich’s ataxia: Friedrich’s ataxia causes progressive nervous system damage that leads to problems with your movement.
- Spinal muscle atrophy: Spinal muscle atrophy is a hereditary condition that has several types ranging in severity. It can cause weakness in your muscles due to spinal nerve damage.
A variety of infections can also impact your nervous system. Infections are caused by disease-causing organisms called pathogens.
The specific symptoms depend on the infection that you’ve contracted. Often, pathogens of the nervous system cause meningitis or encephalitis. But they can also lead to other neurological problems as well.
Some examples of pathogens that can impact your nervous system are:
- bacteria such as:
- Neisseria meningitidis
- Haemophilus influenzae
- Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which causes tuberculosis
- Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease
- Treponema pallidum, which causes syphilis
- viruses such as:
- Japanese encephalitis virus
- cytomegalovirus, a leading cause of congenital hearing loss
- severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which causes coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19)
- fungal species such as:
- parasites such as:
- Plasmodium species, which cause malaria
- Toxoplasma gondii, which causes toxoplasmosis
- Acanthamoeba species
- weakness or numbness
- problems with vision, hearing, and speech
- changes in personality, behavior, or mood
- difficulty with movement
Cancer of the nervous system can either be primary or secondary. Primary cancer is cancer that began in your brain or spinal cord. Secondary cancer is cancer that’s spread (metastasized) from another part of your body such as your breast or lungs.
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Congenital conditions of the nervous system are conditions that you’re born with. They happen due to problems that occur during development in the womb.
Other examples of congenital conditions affecting your nervous system include:
- microcephaly, when your head’s smaller than normal
- megalencephaly, when your brain’s larger than normal
- focal cortical dysplasia, a congenital condition impacting your brain that’s a potential cause of seizures
Neurodevelopmental disorders are related to disruption of the development of your nervous system. People with neurodevelopmental disorders can have trouble with a variety of functions, including:
- speech and communication
- motor skills
Sometimes, people who have a congenital condition have neurodevelopment disorders. But in some cases, the cause is unknown. Possible factors that may contribute include:
- immune system dysfunction
- metabolic disorders
- social deprivation
- physical trauma
- environmental toxins
Some examples of neurodevelopmental disorders include:
The symptoms of neurological diseases can vary widely. But it’s important to see a doctor or healthcare professional if you have symptoms such as:
- persistent or recurring headaches
- chronic pain
- numbness or tingling that doesn’t go away
- lasting muscle weakness
- dizziness that keeps coming back
- difficulties with movement, such as tremors, difficulty walking, or muscle twitching
- changes in memory, thinking, or mood that begin to disrupt your daily life
Some symptoms can point to a more serious problem. Get medical attention right away if you have any of the following:
Neurological diseases are conditions that affect your nervous system. There are many different types of neurological diseases, and they all have different effects on your nervous system.
The symptoms of neurological diseases are very diverse. If you’re having symptoms that may point to a neurological disease, make an appointment with a doctor. They can help determine what’s causing your symptoms.