Information Source for Brain Disease
The brain is the control center of the body. It controls thoughts, memory, speech and movement. It regulates the function of many organs. When the brain is healthy, it works quickly and automatically. However, when problems occur, the results can be devastating.
Inflammation in the brain can lead to problems such as vision loss, weakness and paralysis. Loss of brain cells, which happens if you suffer a stroke, can affect your ability to think clearly. Brain tumors can also press on nerves and affect brain function. Some brain diseases are genetic. And we do not know what causes some brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease.
The symptoms of brain diseases vary widely depending on the specific problem. In some cases, damage is permanent. In other cases, treatments such as surgery, medicines or physical therapy can correct the source of the problem or improve symptoms.
When the brain is healthy it functions quickly and automatically. But when problems occur, the results can be devastating. Some 50 million people in this country—one in five—suffer from damage to the nervous system. The NINDS supports research on more than 600 neurological diseases.
Some of the major types of brain disorders include:
neurogenetic diseases (such as Huntington’s disease and muscular dystrophy)
developmental disorders (such as cerebral palsy)
degenerative diseases of adult life (such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease)
metabolic diseases (such as Gaucher’s disease)
cerebrovascular diseases (such as stroke and vascular dementia)
trauma (such as spinal cord and head injury)
convulsive disorders (such as epilepsy)
infectious diseases (such as AIDS dementia), and brain tumors
What is Traumatic Brain Injury?
Traumatic brain injury (TBI), a form of acquired brain injury, occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain. TBI can result when the head suddenly and violently hits an object, or when an object pierces the skull and enters brain tissue. Symptoms of a TBI can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the extent of the damage to the brain. A person with a mild TBI may remain conscious or may experience a loss of consciousness for a few seconds or minutes. Other symptoms of mild TBI include headache, confusion, light-headedness, dizziness, blurred vision or tired eyes, ringing in the ears, bad taste in the mouth, fatigue or lethargy, a change in sleep patterns, behavioral or mood changes, and trouble with memory, concentration, attention, or thinking. A person with a moderate or severe TBI may show these same symptoms, but may also have a headache that gets worse or does not go away, repeated vomiting or nausea, convulsions or seizures, an inability to awaken from sleep, dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes, slurred speech, weakness or numbness in the extremities, loss of coordination, and increased confusion, restlessness, or agitation.
Is there any Treatment for Brain Disease?
Anyone with signs of moderate or severe TBI should receive medical attention as soon as possible. Because little can be done to reverse the initial brain damage caused by trauma, medical personnel try to stabilize an individual with TBI and focus on preventing further injury. Primary concerns include insuring proper oxygen supply to the brain and the rest of the body, maintaining adequate blood flow, and controlling blood pressure. Imaging tests help in determining the diagnosis and prognosis of a TBI patient. Patients with mild to moderate injuries may receive skull and neck X-rays to check for bone fractures or spinal instability. For moderate to severe cases, the imaging test is a computed tomography (CT) scan. Moderately to severely injured patients receive rehabilitation that involves individually tailored treatment programs in the areas of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech/language therapy, physiatry (physical medicine), psychology/psychiatry, and social support.
What is the Prognosis for Brain Disease?
Approximately half of severely head-injured patients will need surgery to remove or repair hematomas (ruptured blood vessels) or contusions (bruised brain tissue). Disabilities resulting from a TBI depend upon the severity of the injury, the location of the injury, and the age and general health of the individual. Some common disabilities include problems with cognition (thinking, memory, and reasoning), sensory processing (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell), communication (expression and understanding), and behavior or mental health (depression, anxiety, personality changes, aggression, acting out, and social inappropriateness). More serious head injuries may result in stupor, an unresponsive state, but one in which an individual can be aroused briefly by a strong stimulus, such as sharp pain; coma, a state in which an individual is totally unconscious, unresponsive, unaware, and unarousable; vegetative state, in which an individual is unconscious and unaware of his or her surroundings, but continues to have a sleep-wake cycle and periods of alertness; and a persistent vegetative state (PVS), in which an individual stays in a vegetative state for more than a month.
What Research is Being Done?
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) conducts TBI research in its laboratories at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and also supports TBI research through grants to major medical institutions across the country. This research involves studies in the laboratory and in clinical settings to better understand TBI and the biological mechanisms underlying damage to the brain. This research will allow scientists to develop strategies and interventions to limit the primary and secondary brain damage that occurs within days of a head trauma, and to devise therapies to treat brain injury and improve long-term recovery of function.
What are Brain and Spinal Tumors?
Brain and spinal cord tumors are abnormal growths of tissue found inside the skull or the bony spinal column, which are the primary components of the central nervous system (CNS). Benign tumors are non cancerous, and malignant tumors are cancerous. The CNS is housed within rigid, bony quarters (i.e., the skull and spinal column), so any abnormal growth, whether benign or malignant, can place pressure on sensitive tissues and impair function.
Tumors that originate in the brain or spinal cord are called primary tumors. Most primary tumors are caused by out-of-control growth among cells that surround and support neurons. In a small number of individuals, primary tumors may result from specific genetic disease (e.g., neurofibromatosis, tuberous sclerosis) or from exposure to radiation or cancer-causing chemicals. The cause of most primary tumors remains a mystery. They are not contagious and, at this time, not preventable.
Symptoms of brain tumors include headaches, seizures, nausea and vomiting, vision or hearing problems, behavioral and cognitive problems, motor problems, and balance problems. Spinal cord tumor symptoms include pain, sensory changes, and motor problems. The first test to diagnose brain and spinal column tumors is a neurological examination. Special imaging techniques (computed tomography, and magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography) are also employed. Laboratory tests include the EEG and the spinal tap. A biopsy, a surgical procedure in which a sample of tissue is taken from a suspected tumor, helps doctors diagnose the type of tumor.
Is there any Treatment?
The three most commonly used treatments are surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Doctors also may prescribe steroids to reduce the swelling inside the CNS.
What is the Prognosis?
Symptoms of brain and spinal cord tumors generally develop slowly and worsen over time unless they are treated. The tumor may be classified as benign or malignant and given a numbered score that reflects how malignant it is. This score can help doctors determine how to treat the tumor and predict the likely outcome, or prognosis, for the patient.
What Research is Being Done?
Researchers are studying brachy therapy (small radioactive pellets implanted directly into the tumor) and advanced drugs and techniques for chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In gene therapy for brain and spinal cord tumors, scientists insert a gene to make the tumor cells sensitive to certain drugs, to program the cells to self-destruct, or to instruct the cells to manufacture substances to slow their growth. Scientists are also investigating why some genes become cancer-causing. Since tumors are more sensitive to heat than normal tissue, research scientists are testing hyperthermia as a treatment by placing special heat-producing antennae into the tumor region after surgery. In immunotherapy, scientists are looking for ways to duplicate or enhance the body's immune response to fight against brain and spinal cord cancer.
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