Brain Disorders: Types, Diagnosis, and Prevention
The brain and the spinal cord, and a network of nerves make up the nervous system. The brain is our body’s control centre, and it regulates every decision we make, whether subconscious or conscious. In addition, the nervous system controls voluntary and involuntary movement, reaction to specific events, and sensation. Our brain’s chemical balance is necessary to live everyday life. As we age, our body’s ability to synthesize these chemicals reduces. It becomes harder and harder to maintain their levels. Also, our neurons start to break down and decrease in number. It may cause several types of brain disorders as well.
Each part of our brain directly regulates the functioning of our body. For example, the forebrain is responsible for our personality, decision-making skills, logical thinking, and memories. On the other hand, the hindbrain controls motor activity, respiratory functions, sleep-wake cycle, and some of our reflexes. Therefore, when there is an injury to any part of our brain, it can affect our body’s functioning and regulation.
Our brain follows specific pathways and mechanisms to bring about changes. There is a fixed balance of neurotransmitters and hormones in our brain that transmit information across neurons or brain cells. Some chemical messengers in our brain are dopamine, serotonin, GABA, epinephrine and acetylcholine. When there is an imbalance in these neurotransmitters, it can impair our body and mood functioning.
Types of Brain Disorders
There are many types of brain disorders. They may be classified based on their cause. For example, these include genetic brain disorders, neurodegenerative disorders, brain infections, brain injuries, brain cancers and mental disorders.
These are disorders where the brain starts to break down and shrink. It can cause several symptoms and usually has no cure.
1. Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s is a progressive neurodegenerative brain disorder caused when the brain cells die. It is a common type of dementia, which can cause progressive memory loss. Other symptoms of Alzheimer’s are confusion, weak memory, personality and behaviour changes, impaired communication, weakened judgement etc. It is an irreversible brain disorder that ultimately leads to death.
Alzheimer’s is most common in individuals over the age of 65. Women account for about two-thirds of patients who have Alzheimer’s. Some risk factors associated with this disease are age, genes, family history, and immune system problems.
This type of dementia is diagnosed by ruling out other neural disorders and dementia. Also, an autopsy confirms the diagnosis. Additionally, it can test the levels of neurotransmitters like acetylcholine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Their levels are reduced in the brain due to Alzheimer’s, accounting for some of the symptoms.
What’s unique about Alzheimer’s is that you can observe the brain’s structural changes using a CT, MRI, or X-ray. The density of neurons and their connections reduce.
Although, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, the only respite remains to be prevention or slowing down the magnitude of the spread of the disease. However, you can manage the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease with medication..
2. Parkinson’s Disease
This neurodegenerative brain disorder can cause severe motor disabilities in people above 65. Parkinson’s disease has five stages of progression, each worse than the last stage. The most significant indicator of this disease are tremors, spasms and lack of balance in the patient. The symptoms of this brain disorder may eventually lead to the person’s death. A person who has Parkinson’s disease can have difficulty talking, eating, walking, and carrying out simple tasks.
The risk factors of Parkinson’s disease are age (people above 65), gender (males are more prone), specific genes, environment and family history. However, the leading cause of Parkinson’s disease is the decrease in dopamine production, a chemical messenger present in the brain. It can disrupt the proper functioning of the body.
There is no cure or treatment for Parkinson’s disease, only medication to treat its symptoms. However, the drug can improve the patient’s quality of life and give them more time.
3. Huntington’s Disease
It is a neurodegenerative disorder where the brain cells progressively break down. Parkinson’s is a hereditary disorder, which can pass through generations. It can cause uncontrolled movements, affect emotions and intelligence. Other symptoms like depression, impaired judgement, psychosis, and hallucinations are also common.
The risk factors of Huntington’s disease are ethnicity and family history. For example, Huntington’s disease is more common in people with European ancestry.
The medication for Huntington’s disease only treats the symptoms. Additionally, a patient can get physical therapy to help improve motor functions and balance.
4. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
It is also known as the “Lou Gehrig’s disease,” named after the famous baseball player diagnosed with ALS at age 36. It is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that results in loss of motor functioning. Other symptoms of ALS are cramps, spasms, tripping, chronic fatigue, impaired judgement, loss of control in hands, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, and difficulty breathing.
The cause of ALS is an autoimmune response, where your immune cells attack your brain cells that control movement. Additionally, an imbalance of glutamate, a chemical messenger, and free radical damage may also cause ALS.
Some risk factors of ALS are smoking and lead exposure. Further research exists to determine other risk factors.
There isn’t a specific diagnosis of ALS. Thus a process of elimination is done using X-rays, MRI, etc. ALS treatment includes treating its symptoms throughout the body. It can also be treated with medications.
5. Lewy Body Dementia
Lewy body dementia is the most common type of dementia in people above 50. It occurs due to the deposition of Lewy bodies or abnormal proteins in the brain that causes brain disorder. This excessive deposition can affect the chemical and hormonal balance of the brain. As a result, it can affect movement, behaviour, personality, and thinking.
Some symptoms of Lewy body dementia are hallucinations, memory problems, impaired thinking and judgment, and decreased motor skills. Also, depression, anxiety, paranoia, fainting, dizziness is common.
A healthcare professional can diagnose Lewy body dementia by eliminating other similar disorders. Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to prevent or cure Lewy body dementia. However, you may regulate its symptoms. Medication and physical therapy can help decrease the signs and help people live relatively everyday life.
According to a report, one in seven Indians suffers from mental disorders. The most common mental illnesses are depression and anxiety. If you have any mental conditions, reach out to friends, family, or therapists.
Some helplines for mental health disorders in India:
- NIMHANS- 080-46110007
- Sumaitri- 011-23389090, 011-09315767849
- Mpower 1 on 1- 1800-1208-20050
- Fortis Stress Helpline- 08376804102
Depression is the chronic feeling of sadness, grief, hopelessness, or anger that can stop you from carrying out everyday tasks. According to a study, it results from an imbalance of brain chemicals or hormone levels. Also, traumatic events, surroundings, and family history can cause depression. Depression can lead to even more severe issues in life, relationships, physical health, career, and more.
Risk factors of depression are genetics, medication side effects, gender identity, vitamin levels, and diseases. The treatment involves using various medications prescribed by a psychiatrist or physician. Some examples of these drugs are SNRIs, SSRIs and NDRIs. These medications may have side effects that may affect body functions. Additionally, different types of therapy may help a person overcome depression.
Anxiety is a feeling of lingering worry and uneasiness, whether due to a specific reason or not. It may last for weeks or years. According to research, some anxiety symptoms include nervousness, increased heart rate, sweating, trembling, weakness, increased breathing, insomnia, and much more. Anxiety can negatively impact people’s daily lives and lead to panic attacks. Its treatment involves anti-anxiety medication and therapy.
It’s a type of brain disorder where people experience delusions and hallucinations. As per a study, symptoms of schizophrenia include sleep problems, irritability, hallucinations, impaired judgement, isolation, and more. It can be due to one of three reasons: biological, genetic or environmental triggers.
Furthermore, there are different types of schizophrenia, like paranoid, residual, catatonic, undifferentiated, and disorganised. These classifications help in prescribing medication to treat schizophrenia. A complete psychiatric exam diagnoses schizophrenia. There is no cure for schizophrenia. The treatments offered are only for its symptoms. Antipsychotic medicines can help reduce hallucinations, delusions and psychosis.
4. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
The leading cause of PTSD is a traumatic event. For example, survivors of abuse, accident, natural disasters, or wars experience PTSD. As per research, patients with PTSD can experience terror, stress, anxiety, hallucinations, nightmares, and obsessive thoughts. Other symptoms may include the inability to think clearly, experiencing flashbacks, depression, etc. There are more than 10 million cases of PTSD every year in India. Women are twice as likely to experience PTSD than men.
A psychiatrist or psychologist can diagnose PTSD. The treatment of PTSD includes a combination of medications and psychotherapy.
5. Brain Tumours
Brain tumours are abnormal growths in the brain usually caused by cancer. There are two types of brain tumours found:
These are non-cancerous tumours that originate in the brain and are also confined to the brain. These tumours are less invasive and harmful as they are limited to one place. Some examples of benign brain tumours include meningiomas, adenomas, gangliocytomas, and neurofibromas.
These are cancerous tumours that can easily migrate to any part of the brain, spinal cord, or body. Examples of malignant brain tumours include astrocytoma, medulloblastomas, oligodendrogliomas, and ependymomas.
The symptoms of brain tumours include headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, personality change, impaired judgement, numbness in limbs, etc. Brain tumours may happen in any individual, at any age and health condition.
Brain tumours are diagnosed by brain scan imaging using CT, MRI, and X-ray imaging. It may be deadly if not treated, as they can interfere with the functioning of the brain. The treatment for brain tumours can include chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery.
6. Brain Injuries
Brain injuries are a common cause of brain disorder that can lead to disability and death in adults. These result from blunt-force trauma to the head or spinal region. Brain injuries can damage parts of the brain, stop or slow down the communication between neurons, and cause brain bleeds.
Some brain injuries are blood clots, swelling in the brain, strokes, brain bleeds, etc. These can result from a cut on the head, bruise, concussion, or a fractured skull bone. Symptoms of head injuries may include nausea, vomiting, numbness in limbs, bleeding from the ears and nostrils, memory loss, or even paralysis.
The treatment of brain injuries depends on how severe they are. Some methods include medication and even surgery. In addition, you can do additional physical therapy to restore body and brain functions.
Risk Factors for Brain Injuries
For neurodegenerative diseases, the most common risk factor is age. People above the age of 65 are at a much higher risk for neurodegenerative disorders.
Mental disorders are becoming very common in today’s day and age. About 20% of the American adult population has suffered from a mental illness. Some risk factors associated with mental disorders are traumatic events, family history, brain injury, or the use of addictive substances like drugs.
Brain tumours can happen to people at any age, regardless of their physical or mental health. However, some genetic markers can make a person more susceptible to getting a specific type of brain tumour. In addition, exposure to mutagens like UV radiation, carcinogens, and X-rays can increase a person’s chances of getting brain tumours.
Prevention and Cure
Most brain disorders don’t have a cure, only treatments for symptoms. Therefore, prevention is better than cure. Unfortunately, there aren’t many ways to prevent the onset of many brain disorders linked to genetics. However, you can reduce their probability by changing your lifestyle. Eating healthy, exercising daily, and keeping your brain active can help. In addition, solving puzzles regularly may help decrease their occurrence and progression, especially for neurodegenerative disorders.
A study demonstrates how participating in crossword puzzles led to a delay in the onset of dementia. That is because the neurons are kept active and firing by solving puzzles. As a result, they form new connections, which can slow down the development of neurodegenerative disorders.
Brain disorders are defined as any condition that disturbs the brain’s normal functioning, and thus the body. Brain disorders can result from various reasons, whether neurodegenerative disorders, brain tumours, brain injuries or mental disorders.
Common risk factors associated with brain disorders are old age, genetic markers, and lifestyle. Therefore, the only preventative care we can take is to live a healthy lifestyle. You can do it by eating healthy, exercising regularly, keeping your brain active, and limiting the use of toxic substances like drugs and cigarettes.
For the most part, brain disorders don’t have a cure, but some medications can suppress their symptoms. Furthermore, there is research being done in all fields of brain disorders to work out treatment. Therefore, it is essential to pay attention to early signs of brain disorders and consult your physician immediately.