Other Neurological Disorders

This section describes several less common disorders of the central nervous system.

• Meningitis. Meningitis is inflammation of the meninges (the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord), usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Symptoms often appear suddenly and include high fever, severe and persistent headache, sensitivity to light, stiff neck, nausea, and vomiting. In viral meningitis the symptoms are less severe. Symptoms of bacterial meningitis develop more rapidly and are followed by drowsiness and, in some cases, loss of consciousness. Viral meningitis usually clears up within a week or two and requires no treatment other than medication to relieve pain. Bacterial meningitis is a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment with large doses of antibiotics given intravenously. Contact your doctor immediately if you have symptoms of meningitis.

• Encephalitis. Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain, usually caused by a viral infection. Symptoms include sudden fever, headache, vomiting, sensitivity to light, stiff neck and back, confusion, drowsiness, clumsiness, unsteady gait, and irritability. More serious symptoms include muscle weakness, changes in behavior, memory loss, impaired judgment, seizures, and loss of consciousness. Some types of encephalitis may be treated with drugs such as acyclovir. In most cases, however, treatment focuses on relieving symptoms, keeping the person comfortable, and allowing the body's immune system to fight the infection. The doctor may prescribe anticonvulsant medication to prevent seizures and corticosteroid drugs to reduce swelling in the brain. Some cases of encephalitis are short and relatively mild. Other cases can be severe, causing long-term disability or even death. Symptoms of encephalitis require immediate evaluation by a physician because early diagnosis and treatment may prevent serious, perhaps fatal, complications.

• Arteriovenous malformation. An arteriovenous malformation (AVM) is a congenital (present from birth) disorder in which there is a tangled web of arteries and veins in the brain or spinal cord. Symptoms include bleeding (at the site of the malformed blood vessels), seizures, headaches, paralysis, loss of speech or vision, or other neurological symptoms. Once detected, the AVM can be removed surgically, closed off by injecting a special medicinal glue (in a procedure called embolization), or shrunk with radiation. If an AVM is untreated it can bleed into the brain or spinal cord, causing severe disability or death.

Brain and Nervous System




• Bell's palsy. Bell's palsy is a temporary paralysis of facial muscles due to inflammation of one of the facial nerves. Usually only one side of the face is affected. Symptoms include weakness, twitching, or paralysis (which may prevent the eye from closing completely), drooling, and impairment of taste. Other symptoms may include pain, watery eye, and hypersensitivity to sound. Bell's palsy can occur in anyone at any age but is more common among pregnant women and people who have diabetes or a viral infection such as the flu, a cold, or cold sores. There is no specific treatment, and symptoms often clear up on their own in people who do not have other related illnesses. Sometimes facial weakness is caused by a more serious disease. If you have other symptoms, or if the condition does not improve quickly, see your doctor.

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