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Neurological health

Neurological health

Neurological health is at the core of everything we do as humans, from brushing our teeth to exercising to chatting with friends. Despite being responsible for crucial things like our brain function and motor skills, many of us don’t keep our neurological health top of mind until we get older, but that’s a mistake. Developing symptoms of a neurological disorder isn’t something to brush off, because having a neurological condition—whether it starts from birth or develops later in as you age—can be life-changing.
What is neurological health? | Nervous system, explained | Neurological disorders | Neurological symptoms | Diagnosing neurological disorders | Improving neurological health
illustration of brain and nerves representing neurological health
Your neurological health refers to the overall state of your nervous system. Amanda K Bailey
What is neurological health?
Neurological health refers to the overall state of your nervous system, which guides nearly everything you do, think, say, or feel, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Your nervous system is like the headquarters of your body and allows you to do all the things that make you human, such as:
Remembering your route to work
Learning a new language
Feeling scared during a horror film
Staying balanced while walking
Tasting the sweetness in a cookie
Falling asleep at night
Breathing without thinking about it
Feeling anxious or calm during a stressful work project
Digesting food and beverages
Going through puberty
Your nervous system is a huge network of nerves that send electrical signals to and from other cells, glands, and muscles in your body, in addition to interpreting the information around you. This system is made up of special cells called neurons that send different messages depending on their particular function or type, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Motor neurons tell your muscles to move, for example, while sensory neurons collect information from your senses, like sight or sound, and communicate what it learns to your brain.
How does the nervous system work?
Your nervous system is broken into two main parts: Your central nervous system (made up of your brain and spinal cord) and your peripheral nervous system (made up of nerves branching off from your spinal cord that travel through different areas of your body).
The main parts of your nervous system include:
The brain, which contains blood vessels to circulate oxygen through your body and nerves. It analyzes messages sent from your nerves and also uses nerves to communicate to your body, telling it to do things like raise your arm.
The spinal cord, which is a long, tubelike band of tissue that connects your brain to your lower back1. The spinal cord helps carry nerve signals that are responsible for helping you move and feel sensations, which are communicated between your brain and body.
Neurons (nerve cells), which send and receive electrical and chemical signals to and from one another and other cells to communicate to your body what actions to do2. Each nerve has a protective outer layer called myelin which insulates the cell and helps messages get through efficiently.
Glia, which are cells that help keep your nervous system functioning as it should. They offer support by holding neurons in place, protecting and repairing neurons, creating myelin, and getting rid of dead neurons, according to the NIH.
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Common neurological disorders and diseases
Neurological disorders can occur when something happens to interrupt the normal function of your nervous system. It’s not clear just how many people will have a neurological disorder in their lifetime, but in 2017 roughly 60% of Americans were affected by at least one neurological condition, according to a paper published in JAMA Neurology3. Below are some common neurological disorders and diseases and how they are identified.
ADHD
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is most commonly diagnosed in childhood. People with ADHD tend to experience hyperactivity, have a hard time paying attention, or can’t control their impulses to the point where it affects their day-to-day life, often in work or school, according to the CDC.
Dementia
Dementia causes you to lose your cognitive abilities, such as your memory or the ability to make decisions, according to the National Institute of Aging (NIA). Dementia ranges from mild, when it just starts to impair function, to severe, when someone completely depends on others to live. Dementia occurs when healthy neurons in the brain start to die at a greater pace than normal.
Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys a person’s memory and thinking skills due to complex and harmful changes in the brain, according to the NIA. In fact, the disease affects your ability to remember to the point where you might not recall the names of your loved ones. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia in older people (typically those over age 65) and the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
Seizures
Seizures are caused by a sudden disruption of the electrical activity in your brain, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Sometimes these happen because of injuries or other conditions such as a stroke, but many times the exact cause of seizures isn’t known. They can make you feel confused and impact consciousness. Seizures range in symptoms and severity and usually last from 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
Epilepsy
Epilepsy is a central nervous system disorder that causes abnormal electrical signals and is defined by having at least one seizure, per the CDC. The causes of epilepsy are not fully understood, but it can sometimes be triggered by conditions that cause damage to the brain, like a head injury, stroke, central nervous system infection, or tumor.
Headache
You’ve probably experienced a headache at some point in your life—it’s actually the most common form of pain, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Tension headaches are the most common, as they’re set off by tight muscles in your shoulders, neck, scalp, or jaw, often due to things like stress or anxiety.
Migraine
Migraine is a condition that leads to debilitating, throbbing head pain, typically on one side of the head. A migraine attack progresses in stages and can cause symptoms like nausea, dizziness, and sensitivity to light and sound, as well as sensory disturbances known as aura. Experts believe migraine develops due to abnormal changes to inflammation-inducing substances in the brain, which activate pain pathways. Genetic factors may also play a role.
Meningitis
There are various types of meningitis, which are most often caused by a bacterial or viral infection4 that sets off swelling in the membranes surrounding your brain and spinal cord. Early symptoms are reminiscent of the flu and include fever, severe headache, neck pain or stiffness, confusion, nausea, or little appetite. Meningitis is an acute condition that can be life-threatening and needs immediate medical attention.
Multiple sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a central nervous system disease that is also thought to be an autoimmune disorder. In MS, the immune system goes haywire and mistakenly attacks the myelin, or protective insulation, covering your nerve fibers, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. This assault interferes with how well your brain can communicate with the rest of your body, leading to a range of potential MS symptoms, including muscle weakness, gait issues, vision problems, slurred speech, and tingling in the nerves, among others.

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