Our brain is the control centre for our whole body. However, if there is a malfunction somewhere in the central nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord, and nerves, this can result in a neurological disorder.
Epilepsy is caused by abnormal bursts of electrical activity in the brain resulting in uncontrolled muscular spasm known as seizures, also known as convulsions or fits. You may experience other symptoms, including emotional and behaviour changes, also strange sensations like feelings of temperature fluctuations or intestinal movements.
Epileptic seizures are recurrent and can vary in frequency and range from mild to severe. Seizure type depends on where the abnormal brain activity starts, and how much of the brain is involved. A generalised seizure affects both sides of the brain at the same time, which in its most severe form, is called a tonic-clonic seizure. This causes loss of awareness and uncontrollable jerking and twitching movements. A focal seizure begins in one side of the brain, and awareness can remain. However, a focal seizure can spread to both sides and become a tonic-clonic seizure. Causes are often unknown but may be due to genetic changes in the brain, related to a head injury, diseases like Alzheimer’s, a brain tumour, and infection like meningitis. Specific triggers have been identified, such as hormonal changes, flickering lights, high fever, and some foods.
A migraine is a severe headache usually on one side of the head and is often accompanied by other symptoms including nausea, vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light. An aura can be the first sign of a migraine attack and includes visual disturbances like zig-zag line and blurring. Other signals that a migraine attack is imminent include changes in the sense of smell, food cravings, mood changes, repetitive yawning, dizziness, tingling and numbness, and fatigue.
When a migraine is triggered, it is thought that this stimulates the abnormal release of chemicals in the brain. These chemicals cause inflammation, pain, and extreme widening (dilation) of brain blood vessels. These dilated blood vessels press on nearby sensory nerves called the trigeminal nerves and induce pain and other symptoms of a migraine.
You may have a family member who also suffers from migraines as genetics is thought to play a part in its cause. Migraine triggers have also been identified. These include stress, hunger, hormonal changes, some foods like cheese or chocolate, caffein-containing drinks like coffee, and alcohol, amongst others.
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that causes mood fluctuations from extremely high elated mood called mania, to extreme low mood that is like depression. Bipolar disorder is defined by manic episodes and depressive episodes, and the severity and duration of the highs and lows vary. Manic episodes include being overexcited, agitated or irritable, risky behaviour, not sleeping much and losing touch with reality. Depressive episodes include feelings of sadness, and low esteem, loss of energy, concentration and motivation, and loss of interest in activities that used to be pleasurable. In between the highs and lows, it is possible to have spells of balanced mood.
Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that allow nerve cells to communicate. A balance between neurotransmitters that are excitatory and those that have a calming effect on nerve cells is essential for the brain to function normally. Bipolar disorder is thought to be related to an imbalance of brain chemicals.
Family history has a large part to play in the risk of developing bipolar disorder. Other triggers include a life-changing event or trauma in childhood or an illness.
Medications for neurological disorders
Medications for neurological disorders are usually targeted against the cause of the disorder.
- Lamotrigine, levetiracetam, and oxcarbazepine are anticonvulsants that act directly on nerve cells. They prevent abnormal electrical activity and repetitive transmission of nerve impulses that cause seizures. These medications help reduce the frequency and severity of epileptic seizures.
- The anticonvulsant lamotrigine also helps prevent or delay episodes of extreme mood swings in bipolar disorder. It acts directly on nerve cells and restores the balance between excitatory and calming neurotransmitters.
- Sumatriptan and rizatriptan are used to treat migraine attack to relieve headache and other symptoms. They work by mimicking the actions of the brain chemical serotonin that causes blood vessels to constrict and narrow. These drugs also block the transmission of pain signals.