Brain diseases include disabilities or conditions that affect the brain. These conditions include those that might have been caused by genetic factors, illnesses, or traumatic injuries. Trauma, infections, stroke, seizures, and tumors are all examples of possible brain diseases.
Definition & Facts
The brain acts as the body’s control center. The brain is part of the nervous system that includes the spinal cord and network of neurons. When the brain is damaged, it affects many functions in the body such as memory, sensation, breathing, swallowing, balance, bowel function, and personality. Brain diseases include the following:
- Brain injuries, which include blood clots, hematomas, contusions, cerebral edema, strokes, and concussions.
- Brain infections, which include meningitis, brain abscess, and encephalitis
- Brain diseases may arise from problems with the blood vessels within the brain. Stroke, transient ischemic attack, and brain aneurysm are examples.
- Tumors that develop in the brain are referred to as primary brain tumors. Sometimes, cancer that may be affecting a different part of a person’s body may spread or metastasize to the brain. These types of cancers are known as metastatic or secondary brain tumors. Brain tumors are classified into benign (noncancerous) and malignant (cancerous). Physicians stage cancer into stages 1, 2, 3 or 4. The higher the number, the more aggressive the tumor is.
- Neurodegenerative diseases are known to result in the deterioration of the brain and nerves over time. The diseases can change a patient’s personality and lead to confusion. Ailments like Alzheimer’s disease are known to develop in the elderly, while other diseases like Tay-Sachs disease cause symptoms to appear at an early age. Other well-known neurodegenerative diseases include Huntington’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease), Parkinson’s disease, and dementia.
- Mental disorders are also known as mental illnesses or psychiatric illnesses. Whether or not this category of conditions belongs under the umbrella of brain diseases is a topic of controversy. This diverse group of conditions significantly affects a patient’s behavioral patterns. The most commonly diagnosed mental illness comprise of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depression), and schizophrenia.
Symptoms & Complaints
The symptoms of brain injury include nausea, vomiting, bleeding from the ear, speech problems, numbness, memory loss, paralysis, and difficulties with concentration. After a period, a person may develop pupil dilation, low heart rate (bradycardia), high blood pressure (hypertension), and irregular breathing.
Symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases include memory loss, apathy, forgetfulness, anxiety, and loss of inhibition, agitation, and mood swings. Neurodegenerative diseases result in irreversible damage to some vital body organs, and symptoms of the disease worsen as the illness progresses. Over time, other symptoms may begin to develop.
Symptoms of stroke include headache, loss of consciousness, fecal incontinence, urinary incontinence, slurred speech, and paralysis. In addition to those symptoms, symptoms of transient ischemic attack can include diplopia and loss of coordination.
The symptoms of mental health problems are known to vary based on a patient’s condition. This means that different people can experience the same condition but manifest varying symptoms. In the event of a change in normal behavior, moods or thought patterns, it is advisable that a person seek medical advice from a qualified doctor.
Causes of brain disease vary depending on the type of disease, and in many cases are unknown or said to be idiopathic. It is unclear what causes most types of neurodegenerative diseases though a combination of genetic factors, environmental factors may play a role.
Brain injuries are commonly caused by car accidents, falls, and sports injuries. Cigarette smoking may play a role in the development of certain types of brain tumors. Meningitis can be caused by viral infection, bacterial infection, or fungal infection.
High blood pressure is a contributing factor to strokes. People with high risk of developing brain disorders are those that have a family history of brain diseases, those that have had a stressful life experience, and those that have abused drugs or abused alcohol.
Diagnosis & Tests
If a patient is suspected of having a brain disease, the doctor will perform a neurological examination to test the patient’s vision, balance and hearing.
Some physicians order images of the brain to be taken to facilitate diagnosis. The commonly used diagnostic tools comprise of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) scan and positron emission tomography (PET) scans.
Sometimes a doctor may require studying the cerebrospinal fluid obtained from the brain and spinal cord via a lumbar puncture (also known as a spinal tap). An analysis of this fluid helps in identifying any unnoticed bleeding, infection or related abnormalities.
Most mental health diseases are diagnosed based on a psychological evaluation.
Treatment & Therapy
Depending on the type of injury, the treatment options for brain injury may include medications, brain surgery or rehabilitation. Doctors have found out that more than half of patients suffering from brain injuries require surgery to remove or repair the damaged tissues. Those patients with minor brain injuries do not need any further treatment apart from pain medication.
The treatment for a brain tumor depends on various factors like the size of the tumor, age and one’s overall health. The commonly used treatment methods for the disease includes chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy.
As for now, there is no cure for neurodegenerative diseases. Treatment has been known to be of great help in inhibiting the brain deterioration and also maintaining a person's quality of life. Doctors prescribe medications that are aimed at controlling the symptoms. Levodopa is one drug that is used to treat Parkinson's disease. Deep brain stimulation is used to mitigate symptoms among those with neurodegenerative diseases.
Mental disorders can be treated using psychiatric medication and psychotherapy. Quite a number of treatment methods perform better in different conditions. Doctors have found out that a combination of both approaches is sufficient in the treatment process.
In case a person is experiencing symptoms related to a particular mental disorder, he should not try self-medication or the consumption of unprescribed drugs for treatment. It is necessary to seek medical advice from an experienced doctor who will be able to come up with an appropriate treatment method that suits a patient's needs.
Prevention & Prophylaxis