5 Common Neurological Disorders and How to Identify Them

by Yongxing Zhou, MD, Board-Certified Neurologist, MedStar St. Mary's Hospital
October 17, 2019

Neurological disorders—or diseases of the brain, spine, and the nerves that connect them—affect millions of people each year. What’s more, many people don’t even know they have a neurological disorder.

Understanding symptoms of neurological disorders is important, as it can lead you to seek medical attention, which can result in proper diagnosis and effective treatment. Let’s discuss the most common neurological disorders we see and key ways to identify each one.

#DidYouKnow millions are affected by neurological disorders each year, but many don’t even know they have one? These include #headaches, #stroke and #dementia. Knowing the symptoms can lead to proper diagnoses and treatments. Learn how via @MedStarHealth

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1. Headache

Headaches are one of the most common neurological disorders—and there are a variety of different kinds of headaches, such as migraines, cluster headaches, and tension headaches. When headaches occur repeatedly, it’s a good sign that you should see a doctor, as it could be a symptom of an underlying condition.

The most common conditions that can cause recurring headaches include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Infections
  • Temporal arteritis, or when blood vessels in and around your scalp become inflamed
  • Tumors

We typically discuss your symptoms to help determine what’s causing your headache. If we find that you’re just experiencing a migraine, we can prescribe you medication to alleviate your symptoms. If your condition is something serious, such as temporal arteritis, we often prescribe a steroid to reduce inflammation. The medication will help you avoid complications such as vision loss.

2. Stroke

Strokes, which affect more than 795,000 Americans each year, occur when you experience damage to the brain as a result of arteries leading to and within the brain becoming impaired. It’s usually difficult to anticipate a stroke, but signs that you may be having a stroke include sudden:

  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg—especially on one side of the body
  • Severe headache

When we see people who have experienced a stroke, our priority is to help them prevent a second stroke. We often do this through medication, which can include blood thinners or drugs to treat any underlying heart problems, but it depends on your particular situation. You can lower your stroke risk by exercising 30 minutes a day, five days a week, and by following a healthy diet that prioritizes fruits and vegetables and limits processed food.

These lifestyle modifications can help you control key stroke risk factors, such as:

3. Seizures

Seizures are changes in the brain’s electrical activity and affect about one in 100 Americans. Signs and symptoms of a seizure can vary depending on the severity of your seizure, but the most common include:

  • Cognitive or emotional symptoms, such as fear, anxiety, or deja vu
  • Loss of consciousness or awareness
  • Temporary confusion
  • Uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs

After having a seizure, it's important to see your doctor. Early treatment and medication can control your seizures, and you will avoid long-term complications such as memory loss and brain damage.  A seizure often is the result of epilepsy, but can also happen due to:

  • Alcohol abuse or withdrawal
  • Head trauma that causes an area of bleeding in the brain
  • High fever
  • Lack of sleep
  • Low blood sodium
  • Medications, such as antidepressants or pain relievers

4. Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects your movement. Generally, it begins affecting people around age 60, and symptoms gradually get worse over time. Common symptoms include:

  • Constipation: This can occur at any time during Parkinson’s disease, sometimes even decades before you experience motor symptoms
  • Muscle stiffness: This can occur throughout your body; in some cases, it can be difficult to swing your arms while you walk
  • Reduced smell: Most people with Parkinson’s disease have some loss of their sense of smell
  • Stiff face: Especially in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, your face may begin showing little or no expression
  • Speech changes: Your speech can become soft or slurred
  • Tremor: Usually starts in your hands or fingers

Your doctor will diagnose Parkinson’s disease during a visit in which you discuss your symptoms and undergo a physical examination. In many cases, you can alleviate symptoms and manage Parkinson’s disease effectively through medication.

5. Dementia

Dementia is an umbrella diagnosis that describes a group of diseases, including Alzheimer’s, that may cause your brain to fail. Dementia, which becomes increasingly more likely as you age, leads to continuous loss of brain tissue, which can affect:

  • Behavior
  • Emotions
  • Memory
  • Perceptions
  • Thinking

If you feel as though you may be experiencing symptoms of dementia, see your doctor. Some medications and therapies can help you manage symptoms. Moreover, your doctor can connect you with support groups to help you manage life with dementia.

Related Reading: 6 Tips to Reduce Dementia Risk

Living with an undiagnosed neurological disorder can be difficult. Make sure you understand key signs of common conditions so that you can seek medical attention—and receive treatment—when it’s necessary.

Do you want to speak with Dr. Yongxing Zhou about a possible neurological disorder?
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Category: Living Well     Tags: dementiaheadacheheadache treatmentneurological disorderneurologistneurologyParkinson's diseaseseizurestrokeWellness