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UK-NOTPR-1010 | April 2022




Understanding Neurological Disorders

Neurological disorders are diseases of the central and peripheral nervous system. In other words, the brain, spinal cord, nerves and muscles, which regulate and coordinate body activities.

Dementia isn’t a single disease; it is a term used to describe the symptoms that occur when there’s a decline in brain function.1


There are a number of different causes of dementia, of which the most common is Alzheimer’s disease, thought to be linked with the build-up of abnormal ‘amyloid plaques’ and ‘tau tangles’ in the brain.1 Certain other types of dementia also have an abnormal build-up of tau protein in the brain; as a group, these are termed ‘tauopathies’.2


In the early stages, people with Alzheimer’s disease suffer from symptoms such as worsening memory. At first, they may notice things like losing or misplacing objects more often or forgetting names and places. They may also worsen in their ability to make judgements, to manage their affairs, and to plan things. There are often signs of mood changes too, such as an increase in anxiety or agitation and periods of confusion.3 As the disease progresses, sufferers with the condition may find it increasingly difficult to recognise their own family members and friends and often have problems controlling their mood, with a tendency to become irritable or agitated.3 The symptoms typically emerge and worsen over a period of years.3 Alzheimer’s disease most commonly affects people over the age of 65.4


There’s currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease but there are treatments available that can help to relieve some of the symptoms. Making changes to a person’s home environment can sometimes help with making it easier to move around and remember daily tasks.4


People with dementia may ultimately become dependent on a caregiver.3


Gain a deeper understanding of Alzheimer’s disease here.

Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which people experience ‘seizures’ – sudden surges of electrical activity in the brain.5 During a seizure, people can experience changes in awareness and how they sense things, from ‘spacing out’ to completely losing consciousness. Physical symptoms can also be experienced, including feelings of stiffness, tremors, and convulsions.5 Depending on the type, a seizure can last from a few seconds to several minutes.6


There are many known causes of seizure, such as a stroke and head injuries, though in most cases no cause can be identified.7 Lennox–Gastaut syndrome is a rare but severe type of epilepsy that emerges during infancy or early childhood.8 Typically, the seizures cause the sufferer to either stiffen or go limp.8 Dravet syndrome is a rare type of childhood epilepsy that typically starts within the first year of life. Seizures are most often associated with a high temperature and usually involve only one side of the body, although both sides of the body may also be involved.9


Epilepsy is usually a lifelong condition that can affect a person’s safety as well as their ability to function at work or school. However, most people can live normal lives providing their seizures are well controlled.5


Gain a deeper understanding of Lennox–Gastaut syndrome here.

Movement disorders is a term referring to a group of neurological conditions associated with abnormal and increased movements. The movements may be voluntary or involuntary.10 Broadly, movement disorders can be split into those where the affected person moves too much (e.g., Tourette’s syndrome or Huntington’s disease), and those where the affected person moves too little (e.g., Parkinson’s disease or multiple system atrophy).10


Tourette’s syndrome is associated with involuntary movements and vocal sounds, known as ‘tics’, which usually emerge during childhood.11 Huntington’s disease is an inherited, progressive brain disease that usually emerges during middle age.12 It causes involuntary jerky movements of the body, as well as problems with thinking and memory, and changes in behaviour and personality.12 Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disease that causes tremor, slowness of movement, stiffness, and sometimes balance problems, as well as symptoms that are not related to movement (e.g. mental health issues and problems with sleep and memory).13 Multiple system atrophy has similar movement symptoms to Parkinson’s disease, but it is rarer, progresses more rapidly, is harder to diagnose, and has fewer treatment options.14


Movement disorders are a source of stigma and can interfere with daily life. Whereas Tourette’s syndrome may improve with age,11 people with a progressive brain disease can ultimately become completely dependent on a caregiver.1,12-13


Gain a deeper understanding of Tourette’s syndrome here and Parkinson’s disease here.

Pain is an unpleasant sensation associated with actual or potential tissue damage.15 Often the cause of the pain is obvious, occurring after bruising or breaking a bone but sometimes the source of the pain is unseen, for example a slipped disc in your back.15 Different people experience pain in different ways, and this can be influenced by psychological, biological and social factors.15


Short-term pain is called Acute Pain and an example would be a sprained ankle. Acute pain can often be the body’s way of warning us that something is wrong. Long-term pain is called Persistent or Chronic Pain and arthritis is an example.15 Chronic pain often has no useful purpose and the pain messages from the warning system linked to long-term conditions like arthritis or back pain are not always needed, but sometimes the messages get confused and the brain cannot understand the signals properly.15 Over time they can affect what we do and have a negative impact on our ability to work and our sleep patterns.15


Neuropathic pain (nerve pain) is an example of chronic or persistent pain caused by with the nervous system. This is the part of your body that helps you feel pressure, pain and touch, temperature, vibration and movement. 16 Sometimes the pain can occur on its own without a trigger and other times it may be caused by triggers such as; cold, heat, gentle pressure on the skin or other stimuli that are not usually painful.16 The pain can come in short bursts or be there for longer durations and can range from feeling like shooting, stabbing or an electric shock to tingling, numbness or the sensation of pins and needles. Neuropathic pain can have a wide range of causes so it can be difficult to manage.16


Headache is pain that occurs in the head. Headaches are extremely common, and can be ‘primary’, such as migraine, tension-type headache and cluster headache, or ‘secondary’, meaning that they are caused by – or occur secondarily to – other conditions, the most common of which is medication-overuse headache.17 Migraine is a complex condition that usually features a severe headache often accompanied by other symptoms including nausea, disturbed vision and an increased sensitivity to light and sound.18 The symptoms vary across individuals and can differ in length and frequency but migraine can have a huge impact on the lives of sufferers including family, work and social life.18 Tension-type headaches are the most common type of headache in the UK whilst cluster headache is a rare headache disorder associated with overwhelming pain.17


Gain a deeper understanding of neuropathic pain here and migraine here.

People with sleep disorders endure changes in their sleep. Consequently, they feel sleepy during the day and can struggle to carry out normal daily activities, such as driving.19


There are many types of sleep disorder, some of which are relatively common, such as insomnia and breathing disorders like sleep apnea.19 Other sleep disorders are rare, such as narcolepsy.20 Sleep disorders can also be accompanied by psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety.21 In many cases, sleep disorders are a sign or consequence of some other medical condition or mental disorder. For example, excessive daytime sleepiness is a common symptom of degenerative brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease22 or Alzheimer’s disease.3


Narcolepsy is a particularly burdensome sleep disorder. People with narcolepsy are excessively sleepy during the day and need regular naps.20 Many people with the disorder also experience sudden muscle weakness, which can lead to collapse.20 Not only can narcolepsy have a significant impact on daily life, but activities such as driving become much more dangerous and emotionally it can be very tough.20


Gain a deeper understanding of narcolepsy here.

  1. Causes of Dementia: NHS Guide. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dementia/causes/ [Accessed September 2023]
  2. Kovacs GG. Handb Clin Neurol. 2017;145:355-368. 
  3. Alzheimer's disease symptoms: NHS Guide. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alzheimers-disease/symptoms/ [Accessed September 2023]
  4. Alzheimer's disease overview: NHS Guide. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alzheimers-disease/ [Accessed September 2023]
  5. Epilepsy overview: NHS Guide. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/epilepsy/ [Accessed September 2023]
  6. Epilepsy symptoms: NHS Guide. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/epilepsy/symptoms/ [Accessed September 2023]
  7. Seizures: Mayo Clinic Guide. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seizure/symptoms-causes/syc-20365711 [Accessed September 2023]
  8. National Organisation for Rare Disorders: Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome. https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/lennox-gastaut-syndrome/ [Accessed September 2023]
  9. Epilepsy Action: Dravet Syndrome. https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/syndromes/dravet-syndrome [Accessed September 2023]
  10. Movement Disorders: Mayo Clinic Guide. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/movement-disorders/symptoms-causes/syc-20363893 [Accessed September 2023]
  11. Tourette's syndrome overview: NHS Guide. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/tourettes-syndrome/ [Accessed September 2023]
  12. Huntingdon's disease overview: NHS Guide. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/huntingtons-disease/ [Accessed September 2023]
  13. Parkinson's disease overview: NHS Guide. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/parkinsons-disease/ [Accessed September 2023]
  14. Multiple system atrophy: NHS Guide. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/multiple-system-atrophy/ [Accessed September 2023]
  15. What is Pain? The British Pain Society. https://www.britishpainsociety.org/about/what-is-pain/ [Accessed September 2023]
  16. Neuropathic Pain. NHS Physical Health Psychology Cumbria. https://php.cumbria.nhs.uk/patients/resources/neuropathic-pain [Accessed September 2023]
  17. Headache and facial pain. Brain Research UK. https://www.brainresearchuk.org.uk/neurological-conditions/headache-and-facial-pain [Accessed September 2023]
  18. Migraine. Brain Research UK. https://www.brainresearchuk.org.uk/neurological-conditions/migraine [Accessed September 2023]
  19. Sleep Disorders: Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sleep-disorders/symptoms-causes/syc-20354018 [Accessed September 2023]
  20. Narcolepsy overview: NHS Guide. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/narcolepsy/ [Accessed September 2023]
  21. Insomnia Overview: NHS Guide. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/insomnia/ [Accessed September 2023]
  22. Parkinson’s disease symptoms: NHS Guide. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/parkinsons-disease/symptoms/ [Accessed September 2023]

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