“Beep. Beep. Beep!” The alarm was blaring, especially at 5 AM in the morning. As her brain screamed at her to put it on snooze, she obeyed like a faithful servant and drifted off to sleep again. Plenty of us relate to this fictitious character I portrayed. Today, I won’t be drawing your attention towards vicious alarms which torment us in the morning. There’s something far more interesting at play. The defining essence of our existence and functions – the human brain!
Most of us take for granted the intricate functions that our brains perform every day. Not everyone is fortunate enough to experience this bliss. This reality defines the need for a new branch of medicine – neurology. Neuroscience poses some of the biggest mysteries crippling the worldwide population. Neuroscientists all over the world are putting in their time trying to solve these.
What are neurological disorders?
Our body is a dense network of nerves, forming the nervous system. This system along with the brain and spinal cord ensure smooth functioning of the human body. One could picture this network as one that relies on signals which need to be generated accurately. Even the tiniest miscommunication could be disastrous. So what happens when a slight structural, electrical or chemical anomaly resides in your nervous network? It generates incorrect signals and subsequently spirals into a full-fledged disorder! This phenomenon is exactly what we will be probing into today! Here’s a collection of the top 7 neurological disorders that are common in the population today:
ALS: ‘Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis’ or ALS is a devastating neurological disorder that poses a threat to the normal functioning of the body. The onset of this disease is due to the death of neurons which are responsible for voluntary movements. While the cause is unknown in most cases, the symptoms of the disease are definite and brutal in nature. ALS begins with stiff muscles and persistent weakness and it often means a death sentence for many. This is due to its ability to cripple the patient with difficulties in speech, movement and eventually breathing. With no cure in sight, most cases spell eventual death within a period of 2-3 years. However, some variants of this disease are being battled. One example is Stephen Hawking, a renowned cosmologist who did not let his diagnosis deter him from his phenomenal work in cosmology. He continues to communicate at the age of 76 with a speech generation device.
Alzheimer’s disease: Touted to be one of the most ruthless forms of dementia, this disease attacks one mentally rather than physically. The patient loses the ability to retain memories and begins to display behavioural abnormalities. A fascinating fact about the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is that it seldom preys on younger people. Most patients are usually above the age of 65. Again, this disease is progressive, impairs memory and behaviour and is the sixth leading cause of death in America with no cure in sight so far. The good news is that the symptoms are treatable and there are help-centres at one’s disposal these days. This can reduce the stigma of dementia and help ease the pain of the experience, but none of this is a permanent cure. Yes, stigma is a looming problem that comes uninvited with dementia. The affected individuals are often looked upon as a burden and chased away into health-care and senior citizen centers. Ongoing research continues to battle not just the disease but also this stigma. More information on this is available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29426607.
Brain Tumor and Epilepsy: People often wish for the day when the word ‘cancer’ will just mean a star-sign. Inflicting pain, fear, psychological stress and trauma are some of the traits that cancer brings along. Brain tumor is one among the more feared variants of this monstrous disease. When abnormal cells begin to take up residence in the brain, it is never good news. Brain tumors typically cause seizures, headaches and problems in walking and speech. Doctors prescribe radiation and chemotherapy in abundance, not to mention plenty of optimism.
Epilepsy involves seizures which cause uncontrollable shaking of the body. This can result in grave physical injuries, sometimes as critical as broken bones and muscle tear. Sometimes this condition results from cases of brain tumor, stroke or genetic defects. It is unfortunately looked down upon as a mental condition by society. Stigma is a disease in itself that continues to stain the fabric of our society. It is high time that we paved the path for acceptance and sensitivity towards these patients.
Huntington’s disease: If there was a genetic brain disease as lethal as the incarnation of evil, it is the Huntington’s disease! Armed with the symptoms of ALS, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, it unleashes it on the patient all at once. Clearly, it does not shy away from topping the list of deadly brain conditions. While other diseases attack the elderly, Huntington’s preys on the middle-aged. In fact, the odds are stacked up so high that if one of your parents is an HD patient, there is an astonishing 50% chance that you will be an HD patient too. Various studies are being conducted on rodents to develop a treatment for HD. More about this is available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29427097
Multiple Sclerosis and Stroke: Our immune systems aid us in fighting against foreign invaders. But what if our own systems turned against parts of our body and destroyed them completely? Sounds like a nightmare? This nightmare is a reality for every ‘Multiple Sclerosis’ patient. Nerve fibers are like communication cables that deliver messages correctly. When the immune system begins attacking these fibers, communication goes haywire. While there is no cure, one can seek treatment to manage the symptoms of ‘Multiple Sclerosis’ and prevent or postpone its recurrence.
Stroke: Our brain, just like every other part of the body requires an adequate blood supply. When this requirement is not fulfilled for some reason, a person may suffer a stroke. Partial paralysis, loss of vision and pneumonia are some of the permanent effects of stroke. However, living a healthy life is the key towards avoiding stroke, thus epitomizing the saying that prevention is cure indeed.
When the most important organ in our body begins to malfunction, the stakes are insanely high. Life can switch from boon to bane when one’s own Alzheimer’s stricken parent begins to forget their name. As doctors continue to push boundaries seeking a cure for these diseases, let us do our part in eradicating the stigma that patients witness. Kindness comes at no cost and a little love and humanity could go a long way. Building a constructive and healthy recovery system for such patients is vital. It is society’s responsibility to invest in preventive and palliative care for such patients and try to reintegrate them into public life. Reaching for this level of inclusiveness is what defines progress.
Disclaimer: The above article is sponsored by Thyrve, the world’s first Gut Health Program that incorporates microbiome testing and personalized probiotics to ensure a healthier gut, happier life, and a brighter future.