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Neurodegenerative Diseases: Types, Symptoms and Treatment

By Dr. Manoj Khanal in Neurosciences , Interventional Neurology , Neurology

Feb 06 , 2024 | 5 min read

What are Neurodegenerative Diseases?

Neurodegenerative diseases are a group of neurodegenerative conditions where the nerve cells in the brain and nervous system gradually break down or die. This causes problems with movement or mental functioning. These diseases usually worsen over time and don't have a cure, but treatments can help manage symptoms.

Types of Neurodegenerative Diseases

Some of the main types of neurodegenerative brain disorders include:

Dementia-type diseases

These diseases progressively damage different areas of the brain, leading to the death of neurons in various regions. Depending on the affected areas, this results in a broad range of symptoms. Examples include Alzheimer's disease, where Alzheimer's disease treatment is crucial, frontotemporal dementia, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), Lewy body dementia, and limbic predominant age-related TDP-43 encephalopathy (LATE).

Demyelinating diseases 

In these conditions, the damage or loss of myelin disrupts the transmission of nerve signals. Notable examples are multiple sclerosis (MS) and neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD).

Parkinson's-type diseases 

These diseases are characterised by damage to specific brain neurons crucial for coordinating and controlling muscle movements. Parkinson's disease and other parkinsonism forms, which resemble Parkinson's disease in symptoms, are included in this category.

Motor neuron diseases 

These neurodegenerative illnesses occur when neurons responsible for movement control deteriorate and die. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, commonly known as "Lou Gehrig's disease") and progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) are among these diseases.

Prion diseases

These are rapid and severe brain-damaging diseases caused by protein misfolding. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is the most well-known, with most cases arising spontaneously or due to genetic factors. Survival times vary, typically being short.

Neurodegenerative Diseases Symptoms

Symptoms of neurodegenerative conditions can vary widely, depending on the specific condition and the areas of the brain affected. However, there are some common symptoms that many of these diseases share:

  • Cognitive decline: This includes memory loss, difficulty in thinking, problem-solving, and understanding complex tasks. It's a sign of diseases like Alzheimer's and other dementias.
  • Movement disorders: These manifest as tremors, stiffness, slowness of movement, and difficulty with balance and coordination. Parkinson's disease is a well-known example that primarily affects motor functions.
  • Behavioural and emotional changes: Patients might experience mood swings, depression, anxiety, apathy, and irritability. This is common in frontotemporal dementia and other types of dementia.
  • Communication difficulties: Problems with speech and language, including difficulty finding the right words, speaking, understanding, and reading, can occur. This is often seen in Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, requiring effective anomia treatment.
  • Muscle weakness: Progressive weakness and wasting of muscles can occur, as seen in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and other motor neuron diseases.
  • Autonomic dysfunction: This involves problems with blood pressure, temperature control, digestion, and bladder function, often seen in multiple system atrophy and other neurodegenerative disorders.

Neurodegenerative Diseases Causes

Neurodegenerative diseases often arise from multiple factors, and in many instances, a singular cause remains elusive, posing challenges for individuals with these conditions and their families. Despite this complexity, researchers have identified several potential causes and risk factors, categorised as follows:

  • Age: Age is the most significant factor in the onset of neurodegenerative diseases. The likelihood of developing such conditions increases with age. While some degenerative brain diseases may manifest earlier in life, these cases are relatively rare.
  • Genetics: A strong genetic component is evident in many neurodegenerative diseases, such as in certain forms of Dementia Treatment. This often stems from inherited mutations that elevate risk. In some cases, spontaneous genetic mutations occur, or a combination of genetic factors may contribute to the disease.
  • Environmental factors: The environment plays a critical role in developing these diseases. Factors such as exposure to pollution, chemicals, toxins, certain infections, and even geographic location (like lower vitamin D levels in regions far from the Earth's equator) have been linked to the onset of neurodegenerative conditions.
  • Medical history: An individual's medical history and previous health events can influence the development of neurodegenerative diseases. Certain medical occurrences, like cancer or head injuries, can trigger or exacerbate these conditions.
  • Lifestyle choices and habits: Daily habits and lifestyle choices also contribute to the risk. This includes dietary habits, physical activity levels, tobacco use, alcohol consumption, and other lifestyle factors.

Neurodegenerative Diseases Diagnosis

The process of diagnosing a neurodegenerative disease can differ based on the specific condition an individual has. Typically, healthcare providers initiate the diagnosis with an essential neurological examination, supplemented by inquiries about the patient's symptoms and medical history, often involving input from family members.

For certain neurodegenerative diseases, specific tests are required for diagnosis:

  • Laboratory testing: Sometimes, blood and genetic testing are sufficient to diagnose specific neurodegenerative conditions.
  • Imaging scans: Tools like computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scans) play a crucial role in diagnosis. These imaging tests allow healthcare providers to visualise the brain and detect any damage or changes indicative of a neurodegenerative condition or to exclude other potential causes.
  • Histopathology post-mortem: Certain conditions, such as Pick's disease or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, cannot be definitively diagnosed during a patient's lifetime. While healthcare providers might suspect these conditions based on symptoms and tests, a conclusive diagnosis is only possible through microscopic examination of brain tissue post-mortem, typically after an autopsy.

The choice of tests varies greatly, largely dependent on the specific area of the brain affected and the symptoms presented. Healthcare providers are best equipped to recommend the most appropriate tests for an individual's case and explain the reasons for their recommendations.

Neurodegenerative Diseases Treatment

Currently, there is no cure for neurodegenerative diseases. Treatment typically involves a combination of medications and psychotherapy tailored to the specific diagnosed neurodegenerative disease.

The treatment approach varies depending on the particular neurodegenerative disease. The primary objective is to alleviate the associated symptoms.

Medications are employed to address both the physical and mental symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases. However, given the progressive nature of these conditions, there are currently no available medications that can impede the progression of their symptoms.

Neurodegenerative Diseases Complications

Complications arising from neurodegenerative diseases can be diverse and impact various aspects of a person's life due to the progressive nature of these conditions. Some of the common complications include:

  • Swallowing difficulties: Diseases like Parkinson's and ALS can lead to difficulties with swallowing, increasing the risk of choking or aspiration pneumonia.
  • Nutritional problems: Eating difficulties, along with changes in metabolism, can lead to weight loss, malnutrition, or dehydration.
  • Sleep disorders: Many individuals with neurodegenerative diseases experience problems with sleep, such as insomnia, sleep apnea, or disrupted sleep patterns.
  • Increased risk of infections: Due to decreased mobility and potential swallowing issues, there is an increased risk of infections, particularly respiratory infections like pneumonia.
  • incontinence: In later stages, bladder and bowel control can be affected, leading to incontinence.
  • Skin problems: Limited mobility increases the risk of pressure sores and skin infections.

Conclusion

Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and ALS, significantly impact health with symptoms like cognitive decline and physical impairment. Current treatments mainly manage symptoms, as no cure exists yet. For comprehensive care and the latest in treatment options, consider Max Healthcare. Our dedicated team provides expert care and innovative solutions for those affected by neurodegenerative conditions. Connect with Max Healthcare for specialised support and to explore the best treatment strategies for these complex diseases.