The nervous system is made up of the brain, spine and nerves. It is the most complex system in the body and controls everything we do – from our thoughts, heartbeat and digestion to our breathing, speech and movement.
Neurology is the branch of medicine that deals with the nervous system and the disorders that affect it. Neuro means – relating to nerves and the nervous system.
A neurologist is a medical doctor who specialises in neurology – specifically in the diagnosis and treatment of people with neurological conditions. A neurologist does not does not undertake surgery. A neurosurgeon is a medical doctor who performs operations on the nervous system.
A neurological condition is a disorder of the nervous system.
Neurological conditions affect all ages and people can experience the onset of a neurological condition at any time in their life.
Neurological condition can result from:
- Trauma (e.g., head, spinal cord or nerve injury)
- Infections (e.g., meningitis, CJD, encephalitis, polio, epidural abscess)
- Degeneration (e.g., dementia, Parkinson’s disease, PSP, multiple sclerosis)
- Structural defects (e.g., cervical spondylosis, carpel tunnel syndrome)
- Cancer (e.g., brain tumour)
- Disruption to blood flow (e.g., stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA), subarachnoid haemorrhage, subdural haemorrhage and haematoma)
- Electrical, biochemical or physiological disturbances (e.g., epilepsy, migraine).
The most common general signs and symptoms of a disorder of the nervous system include: persistent or sudden onset of a headache; a headache that changes or is different; tingling or a loss of sensation; weakness or loss of muscle strength; muscle rigidity; poor coordination; tremors or seizures; confusion; loss of memory; impaired mental ability; depression; changed behaviour; apathy; pain and altered levels of consciousness.
Different combinations of these symptoms can occur in different neurological conditions, and different conditions can have similar symptoms making accurate diagnosis difficult in some cases. A neurologist may take some considerable time working with a patient before making a probable diagnosis and this may involve performing many tests to eliminate other conditions.
There are over 250 neurological conditions. Some are more common than others and there are those that most of us will have heard of even though we may not have thought of them as a ‘neurological condition’, e.g., meningitis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease. There are however, many more neurological conditions that are either relatively rare or whose profile amongst the general public is so low that we are unfamiliar with their names. By looking at the list of neurological conditions below you will be able to see how many you have heard of before and how many are new to you.
For accurate, up to date, in-depth information on the symptoms, causes and treatment of all neurological conditions please visit the NHS website www.nhs.uk
In the UK there are more than 10 million1 people living with a neurological condition while globally, according to the World Health Organisation, the number exceeds a billion. Both nationally and globally, the numbers of people with a neurological condition is set to rise as a result of our aging population and improved life expectancy in developing countries.
Neurological conditions are the most common cause of serious disability and result in significant loss of life and impaired quality of life. The human and health cost of neurological conditions is immense as is the economic cost to individuals, their families and society.
The cost to the NHS for the care of people with neurological conditions has not been quantified. However, in considering the cost of care it should be remembered that a significant proportion of the cost is borne not by the state but by the patient’s family in that family members function as unpaid carers or secure private nursing care.
Of the 10 million1 plus people in the UK who have a neurological condition:
- over 350,000 require help for most of their daily activities
- over 1 million are disabled by their condition
- over 8 million are affected by a neurological condition but are able to manage their lives on a day-to-day basis.
Each year some:
- 600,000 people are newly diagnosed with a neurological condition
- 200,000 children have an acquired brain injury
- a quarter of people aged between 16 and 64 with chronic disability have a neurological condition
- a third of disabled people living in residential care have a neurological condition
- 10% of visits to Accident and Emergency Departments are for a neurological condition
- 17% of GP consultations are for neurological symptoms
- 19% of hospital admissions are for a neurological problem requiring treatment from a neurologist or neurosurgeon (mostly stroke, epilepsy, dementia, head injury).
Source: 1Neuro numbers produced by the Neurological Alliance (2003)
More people die from a neurological condition than from cancer. This key fact tends to go unrecognised because the many different neurological conditions have very different names and there is no common word or phrase that links them. The word ‘cancer’ for example, links the many different disorders where there is uncontrolled growth and division of cells in tissues and organs throughout the body e.g., lung cancer, bowel cancer, pancreatic cancer. There is no such word linking disorders of the nervous system. Consequently, people do not realise how prevalent neurological conditions are or that one in six of us has a neurological condition that affects our daily life to a greater or lesser extent.
Neurological services are the Cinderella of the medical world, receiving less funding than other areas, as is the case for neurological research. Without adequate investment in research there can be no progress in the care and treatment of neurological patients nor can we establish the causes and find ways to prevent conditions from developing in those who may be at risk. Currently, medical progress for people with a neurological condition lags far behind the progress and benefits seen in other areas such as cancer and heart disease where there has been significant investment in research.
We cannot change what has been – that is history. But we can change the future for people with a neurological condition. This is what BBRF aims to do by promoting and supporting research across all neurological conditions.
With an ethos of inclusivity and the creation of a 10 million strong ‘voice’ for neurological research, we aim to generate increased investment in research to speed up much needed progress for the benefit of all affected by a neurological condition.
If you would like to help us in our work do please Get Involved.