Symptoms & Causes of Brain Disorders: A Comprehensive Guide
Brain disorders are not the same as mental illnesses. While both can have an impact on your ability to function in everyday life, brain disorders are neurological conditions that involve the structure and function of the brain. Whether you’re new to brain disorders or want a refresher, this article will help you learn more about the most common types of brain disorders, their symptoms and causes, and how they’re treated.
You will also discover resources with more in-depth information on each condition if you think you might be struggling with one. This is not an exhaustive list—there are many other rarer types of brain disorders that do not appear here. These 10 examples just happen to be some of the most common, well-known ones with relatively straightforward treatment options.
What is a Brain Disorder?
A brain disorder is a medical condition that affects the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord. Brain disorders are conditions caused by pathological changes to the brain, as well as changes to the neurons, glial cells, and other cells that comprise the central nervous system.
Common brain disorders include stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, schizophrenia, and traumatic brain injury. Brain disorders may be caused by a wide variety of factors, including genetics, lifestyle, toxins, infections, and certain medical conditions. When it comes to brain disorders, timing is everything. The sooner you seek treatment, the better your chances of recovery.
Different Types of Brain Disorders
1. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
ADHD is one of the most common types of brain disorders—one in every 10 U.S. children has it, and about one-third of adults report symptoms as well. It is characterized by hyperactive and impulsive behavior, difficulty paying attention, and a short attention span. For many people with ADHD, the symptoms are mild enough to go undiagnosed, but the consequences of untreated ADHD can be serious—from low academic achievement and trouble in school to an increased risk of substance abuse and car accidents.
A variety of medications are available to treat ADHD, and they generally work by increasing levels of dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating attention. Over the long term, however, these medications can be very disruptive to the brain—potentially causing cognitive decline and mood disorders.
2. Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that slowly destroys the brain—it’s the most common cause of dementia in the U.S. and affects a staggering number of people each year. In fact, one in six people aged 65 and older have Alzheimer’s. Symptoms are primarily cognitive in nature and include decreased ability to remember and to think clearly, as well as a general decline in cognitive function.
Over time, these symptoms progress to full-blown dementia. There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s—current treatment is geared toward managing symptoms and preventing further brain damage. The causes of Alzheimer’s are still somewhat of a mystery, but research suggests that genetics and certain lifestyle factors play a role.
It’s important to know the early warning signs of Alzheimer’s, since there’s no way to prevent it. The only way to truly prevent Alzheimer’s is to eliminate aging, which isn’t really an option.
3. Brain Tumors
Brain tumors are abnormal growths on the brain that can be benign or malignant (cancerous). Brain tumors can develop anywhere in the brain, but most occur near the central areas of the brain, including the hypothalamus, amygdala, and hippocampus. Brain tumors can cause a wide range of symptoms, from headaches and mood changes to hallucinations and seizures.
These symptoms may occur suddenly, or they may develop over time as the tumor grows. Treatments for brain tumors include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. It’s important to note that not all brain tumors are cancerous, so not all treatments will be the same as for cancerous tumors.
Researchers are working on new methods to prevent and treat brain tumors, including the use of immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a promising treatment option for certain types of brain tumors.
4. Depression and Bipolar Disorder
Depression is a type of mood disorder characterized by low mood, low self-esteem, feelings of hopelessness, changes in appetite, difficulty sleeping, and lack of energy. While everyone experiences these symptoms from time to time, in people with depression these feelings are more intense and last for weeks or even months.
Bipolar disorder is another type of mood disorder characterized by extreme shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels—people who have bipolar disorder experience both depressive episodes and manic episodes. Bipolar disorder and depression are two of the most common brain disorders in the U.S., with one in five people experiencing symptoms during their lifetime. Sadly, most people with depression and bipolar disorder don’t receive appropriate care.
5. Developmental Disorders
Developmental disorders are conditions that affect the early development of the brain. Some of the most common developmental disorders include autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Autism is a lifelong developmental disorder that affects how a person communicates and interacts with others.
While each person with autism is unique, common signs and symptoms of autism include difficulty relating to others, obsessive interests, and an unusual way of communicating. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a developmental disorder that affects how the brain processes information. This can lead to challenges with attention span, impulse control, and hyperactive behavior.
Epilepsy is a chronic condition characterized by recurrent seizures. A seizure is a sudden and excessive electrical discharge of neurons in the brain. Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder in the U.S., and it affects people of all ages.
Epilepsy can be caused by a wide variety of factors, including a brain injury, an infection, a tumor, a stroke, or an inherited neurological disorder. And while many people associate seizures with epilepsy, only about a third of people with epilepsy experience seizures. Most people who have epilepsy can lead normal and productive lives with the right treatment and lifestyle modifications.
Schizophrenia is a complex brain disorder that can greatly affect how a person thinks, acts, and experiences emotion. The disorder affects about 1% of the population and typically begins in early adulthood. Schizophrenia is characterized by hallucinations, delusions, unusual and dysfunctional thoughts, and reduced ability to understand and process emotion.
The exact cause of schizophrenia is not known, but it’s widely believed that genetics and environmental factors both contribute to the development of the condition. There is no cure for schizophrenia, but there are treatments that can help control symptoms and improve quality of life.
8. Tardive Dyskinesia
Tardive dyskinesia (TD) is a neurological disorder caused by long-term use of antipsychotic medications. Antipsychotics are used to treat a number of mental health conditions, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder. TD causes uncontrollable body movements and a wide range of other unpleasant symptoms, including abnormal blinking and eye movements, abnormal chewing and swallowing, facial grimacing, and abnormal tongue movement.
While the exact mechanism behind the development of TD is unclear, it is believed to be caused by changes in the brain caused by long-term exposure to antipsychotic medications. The good news is that TD is reversible—with proper treatment, people can recover from this condition.
Brain disorders are serious medical conditions that can significantly disrupt everyday life. Thankfully, many brain disorders are treatable—with the right care, you can live a fulfilling and healthy life even if you have one of these conditions. It’s important to remember that brain disorders are not the same as mental illnesses.
While both can have an impact on your ability to function in everyday life, brain disorders are neurological conditions that involve the structure and function of the brain. Whether you’re new to brain disorders or want a refresher, this article will help you learn more about the most common types of brain disorders, their symptoms, and causes. You will also discover resources with more in-depth information on each condition if you think you might be struggling with one.