What Is Nervous System Disease?The nervous system is an intricate system in the body that coordinates all of the body’s activities. The nervous system is vital for communication between the different parts of the body. Additionally, the nervous system reacts to changes inside and outside of the body by using electrical and chemical means to send and receive messages. There are two major subsets of the nervous system: the central nervous system, which is comprised of the spinal cord and brain, and the peripheral nervous system, which is comprised of all other neural elements.
The peripheral nervous system is further divided into the autonomic nervous system and the somatic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system includes the sympathetic and parasympathetic system. The autonomic nervous system helps to control unconscious activities of the organs and glands within the body; while the somatic system helps to transfer information from the eyes, ears, muscles, and skin to the central nervous system. It also helps to move the body by contracting and relaxing muscles.
The primary organs of the nervous system include the eyes, ears, sensory receptors of the skin, muscles, and joints, as well as the sensory organs for smell and taste.
While symptoms of nervous system diseases can vary, the most common general symptoms include sudden onset of headache, a headache that is different than normal, altered sensation (numbness or tingling), muscle weakness, muscle wasting, vision changes (loss of sight or double vision), memory loss, impaired mental functioning, muscle rigidity, lack of coordination, seizures or tremors, radiating back pain, and slurred speech. Individuals experiencing any of these symptoms should consult with their physicians to rule out underlying nervous system disease.
Causes Of Nervous System DiseaseThe nervous system is delicate and is therefore susceptible to numerous diseases and disorders, including:
- Vascular disorders such as stroke, transient ischemic attack, and brain hemorrhage
- Infections such as meningitis, encephalitis, epidural abscess, and polio
- Structural disorders such as Bell’s palsy, carpal tunnel syndrome, peripheral neuropathy, Guillain-Barre syndrome, and brain or spinal cord injury or tumors
- Functional disorders such as neuralgia, headache, and epilepsy
- Degenerative disorders such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease
The nervous system can be damaged by trauma, degeneration, infection, tumors, structural defects, autoimmune disorders, and disruption of blood flow.
Treatments For Nervous System DiseaseTreatment for nervous system disease is based on the underlying issue. Patients are generally referred to a neurologist, which is a physician that specializes in diseases of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. The neurologist will conduct a detailed medical history and physical exam and may order a variety of additional tests, including:
- Lumbar puncture or tap: This test allows the cerebrospinal fluid to be analyzed to look for bacteria that may be causing meningitis, proteins that are specific to multiple sclerosis, or blood cells.
- Brain scan: Brain tumors can be visualized by introducing a radioactive element into the bloodstream.
- Electroencephalogram (EEG): This test measures brainwave activity and can be useful for diagnosing various conditions including epilepsy and brain tumors.
- Computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Both of these imaging techniques can be used to visualize different areas of the body in detail looking for signs of disease.
Depending on the type of nervous system disease, treatment may be focused on curing the condition, managing the symptoms, or slowing the progression of the disease.
For patients who are suffering from nervous system diseases that are the result of infection, such as meningitis and encephalitis, treatment with antibiotics will be initiated to help fight off the infection. The type of antibiotic used will be dependent on the bacteria that is causing the disease.
Neuropathic pain may be treated with a combination of analgesic medication and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Additionally, some patients may be prescribed anticonvulsant or antidepressant medications to treat their neuropathic pain symptoms.
Patients suffering with functional disorders such as headache and epilepsy may be managed with prophylactic therapy to help prevent headaches and seizures. Prophylactic treatment for epileptic patients may include anti-convulsant medication. Prophylactic treatment for migraine sufferers may include a variety of medications, including propranolol, timolol, amitriptyline, divalproex, sodium valproate, or topiramate. The goal of prophylactic treatment is to minimize the frequency, intensity, and duration of symptoms in an attempt to improve the quality of life of sufferers.
Patients suffering with degenerative disorders including multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease are usually treated with a combination of drugs that are specific to their condition, as well as a rehabilitative program that may help to maintain function and sustain an optimal quality of life.
Patients who have structural or vascular disorders may require a referral to a neurosurgeon to discuss the possibility of surgery to manage their nervous system disease.
ConclusionThe nervous system is a complex system in the body that is responsible for coordinating all of the body’s functions. Damage to the nervous system can result in various diseases, which may be vascular, infectious, structural, functional, or degenerative in nature. Symptoms of nervous system disease varies from one disease to the next; patients experiencing any concerning symptoms should consult with their physician to rule out nervous system disease. Treatments for nervous system disease can be geared towards curing the disease, managing and preventing symptoms, or slowing the progression of the disease. Patients suffering from nervous system disease should consult with a neurologist to help determine the best course of treatment for their case.
Also make sure to check out our blog post on “How to Take Care of Your Nervous System.”
- Backonja MM. Use of anticonvulsants for treatment of neuropathic pain. 2002;59(5):S14-S17.
- Better Health Channel,. Nervous system – better health channel. N.p., 2015. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.
- Des Moines University. Nervous system diseases – Des Moines University. N.p., 2015. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.
- French JA, Kanner AM, Bautista J, Abou-Khalil B. Efficacy and tolerability of the new anti-epileptic drugs I: treatment of new onset epilepsy. 2004;62(8):1252-1260.
- org. Overview of nervous system disorders. Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library. N.p., 2015. Web. 16 Mar. 2015.
- Modi S, Lowder DM. Medications for migraine prophylaxis. American Family Physician. 2006;73(1):72-78.
- Saarto T, Wiffen PJ. Antidepressants for neuropathic pain: a Cochrane review. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2010;81:1372.1373.