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What are the diseases that affect the brain? – Degenerative Brain Disease

Degenerative brain disease or Neurodegenerative disease is a conglomerate of conditions in which there are a progressive dysfunction and loss of neurons.

These are diseases that go from dementia to conditions that cause problems with the movement of the body. Within this article, you will find answers to these conditions, including if they are hereditary, and many others. Before reaching that point, there will be brief explanations of the basic concepts of the disease.

By reading this article, you will obtain key insights on Degenerative Brain Disease like its symptoms, the most common disorders, and many others. Please keep reading to get pearls on this topic by the hand of a Doctor.

What is degenerative brain disease?

Degenerative brain disease is a term that defines a broad spectrum of diseases. These diseases are characterized by a progressive loss of selectively vulnerable populations of brain cells or neurons.

Changes in these cells cause them to function abnormally and eventually to lead to cell death. As neurons deteriorate, an individual may first experience relatively mild symptoms like trouble remembering names or problems with coordination. However, as the death rate of neurons rises, the symptoms progressively worsen, causing more brain damage. Therefore, this may lead to an inability to walk independently, think clearly, or being able to function in the world as the brain function declines. Ultimately, many of these diseases are fatal, and there is no cure for them. The diagnosis of these diseases becomes definitive with the neuropathological evaluation at autopsy.

Moreover, the physician will refer these patients to a specialist, the neurologist. The neurologist will make several tests which may include blood tests and imaging tests like computerized tomography to discard other entities like a subdural hematoma. These tests go along with a complete history, a full physical examination, and a revision of familiar history. 

The classification of these diseases may be according to:

  • Primary clinical features, for example, diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, or motor neuron disease.
  • Anatomic distribution of degeneration, for example, frontotemporal degeneration or extrapyramidal disorders.
  • Primary molecular abnormality.

In the United States, about 6 million people have Alzheimer’s disease, 1 million from Parkinson’s disease; 400.000 from Multiple Sclerosis; 30.000 from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) and 30.000 from Huntington’s disease. These diseases affect people in mid to late life; studies expect a rise in the incidence of neurodegenerative disorders as the population grows older, and 1 out of 5 people in the US will be over the age of 65.

Which are they?

There are several neurodegenerative diseases and neurological disorders that affect the brain causing brain injury. Many of them are due to genetics, and sometimes the cause is a medical condition. Among these causes, there are brain tumors, traumatic brain injury, or strokes. The following list is a compilation of the most common degenerative brain diseases.

  • Alzheimer’s disease: It is the most common cause of dementia in people over 65 years old. Characteristically, this disease consists of the accumulation of neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques. The accumulation damages the nerve cells progressively and shrinks the brain tissue over time. Also, it leads to cognitive impairment and decline, which can get worse over time and lead to death.
  • Parkinson’s disease: It is one of the most common neurologic disorders of the basal ganglia. It causes progressive disability due to a loss of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra and the appearance of Lewy bodies, causing tremors in the patient.
  • Prion disease: It is a rare family of diseases that causes degenerative brain disorder affecting humans and animals. The causal agents are the prions. These refer to abnormal agents that induce abnormalities in prion proteins that are most abundant in the brain. The most common disease of these is Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or CJD.
  • Huntington’s disease: This disease is an incurable disorder in which nerve cells degenerate progressively, leading to involuntary movements, dementia, and behavioral changes. Also, it is a hereditary disorder that affects the basal ganglia and cortex of the brain.
  • Multiple sclerosis: Is a progressive inflammatory disease that affects the spinal cord, damaging neurons and producing significant physical disability.

Other Diseases

Other degenerative diseases are not so common or a product of other conditions. Among these brain disorders are the following.

  • Vascular dementia: Strokes or cerebrovascular diseases are the ones that cause this specific type of dementia. After the stroke is onset, the aftermath of this particular condition may lead to vascular dementia due to damage to the brain tissue.
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Corticobasal degeneration
  • Motor neuron diseases
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)

Importantly, studies correlate the incidence of brain trauma and the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. They reveal whether these traumatic brain injuries are from sports or car accidents; people who undergo those injuries are at risk of developing neurological diseases.

Moreover, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as dementia pugilistica, is a condition that appears on athletes from sports like boxing or American football due to repetitive concussions. These patients show progressive changes in memory, executive functioning, depression, and impulse control, as well as Parkinsonism.

Is degenerative brain disease hereditary?

Although certain risk factors can promote neurodegeneration and produce neurodegenerative diseases, there is a genetic factor that plays a major role. Brain disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease are hereditary. Also, many other neurodegenerative disorders are genetic too. That is why it is so crucial for the physician at the moment of examination to ask the familiar history of neurological diseases. For example, Huntington’s disease is purely hereditary. Therefore, these conditions have a direct correlation with their genetic basis; the genes play a major role inducing defects in proteins leading to the origin of these diseases.

Furthermore, in the case of Alzheimer’s disease, the problem is on the 21st chromosome leading to an abnormal formation of proteins. This abnormality will promote the formation of neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques that will damage the brain tissue.

Is dementia a degenerative brain disease?

Dementia is any decline in cognition that is significant enough to interfere with independent daily functioning. It is a general term that describes a group of symptoms in correlation to a decrease in memory, reasoning, and other skills. Dementia is best characterized as a syndrome rather than a particular disease. On the other hand, degenerative brain diseases may produce dementia, which is the case of Alzheimer’s disease. This disease is the most common cause of dementia in older people, causing progressive brain tissue damage leading to cognitive impairment. However, there are other causes of dementia too, but they are the product of a neurodegenerative disease or another condition. The following list names some of them.

  • Vascular dementia: It is the second most common cause after Alzheimer’s dementia. Cerebrovascular disease (Strokes) is a primary risk factor for developing this kind of dementia.
  • Lewy Body Dementia
  • Frontotemporal Dementia
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Down Syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease dementia
  • Korsakoff Syndrome
  • Posterior Cortical Atrophy

What are the symptoms of degenerative brain disease?

There is a wide variety of degenerative brain diseases. Not all of them present themselves in the patient in the same way. Therefore, the specific symptoms depend on the underlying disease.

For instance, the initial symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are not the same as Alzheimer’s. Different parts of the brain receive damage on these diseases.

Parkinson’s affects the neurons that directly correlate with the motor circuit within the brain affecting the normal movement. Alzheimer’s affects the neurons in the hippocampus, the brain’s part in charge of the memory. However, since both are neurodegenerative, most of these diseases in this spectrum have general symptoms in common like:

  • Memory loss
  • Forgetfulness
  • Apathy
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Loss of inhibition
  • Mood swings

Nonetheless, there are specific symptoms and signs for each disease. The following list presents the symptoms and signs for some of the most common neurodegenerative diseases.

Alzheimer’s disease

  • Memory loss
  • Taking longer to accomplish daily tasks
  • Confusion about location on familiar places
  • Trouble handling money and paying bills
  • Mood swings
  • Short attention span
  • Making bad decisions due to a wrong judgment of the situation

Parkinson’s disease

  • A tremor in upper extremities or resting tremor
  • Decreased arm swing on the first involved-side
  • Decreased facial expression
  • Soft voice
  • Depression
  • A subtle decrease in dexterity
  • Rigidity
  • Bradykinesia (Slowness in the voluntary movements)

Huntington’s disease

  • Inability to control movements
  • Rigidity
  • Slowness in movements
  • Depression
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Behavioral changes
  • Slowing of cognition
  • Short-term memory not working properly

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

  • Tripping, stumbling or awkwardness when running
  • Foot drop
  • Stiffness and weakness on the hand fingers
  • Wrist drop
  • Slow speech
  • Choking during a meal
  • Involuntary laughing or crying
  • Maladaptive social behavior
  • Muscle cramps

What is the most common degenerative brain disorder?

The most common degenerative brain disorder is Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is a condition that affects approximately 6 million people in the United States. Specialists predict that this number will grow to 15 million by 2060. Also, it is the sixth leading cause of death in this country, accounting for 3% of all deaths in 2014. It has similar numbers of prevalence in first-world countries.

Furthermore, the prevalence of this disease increases with age. It affects people over 65 years old, and as people grow older, the risk of developing this disease rises. The fact that conditions like Metabolic Syndrome can accelerate this disease’s onset is something to bear in mind. Therefore, obesity, lack of exercise, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high levels of fats in the blood may accelerate this specific entity’s acceleration.

Yet, it is a disease that has a genetic factor. This condition does not form part of the normal process of aging. Besides, some external factors may induce the development of this condition, but the primary role is the genetic one. It is a disease with no current cure, and the patient should know about this. Notwithstanding, there are clinical trials ongoing for developing a cure.

Furthermore, it has a deep correlation with Down’s syndrome as the Alzheimer’s genetic alteration is on the chromosome’s 21st pair. Patients with Down’s syndrome develop Alzheimer’s at an early age, at least 10 or 15 years earlier than people who do not have this syndrome.

How can you cure neurodegenerative diseases?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for neurodegenerative diseases. Several researchers are trying to find treatment for specific conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. However, these are complex diseases, and to this date, there is no full comprehension of them. The lack of response to the treatment is the leading cause of the failure of these investigational programs.

Moreover, although there is no cure yet for these diseases, the clinical trials keep going, and efforts are still intact. Physicians indicate treatment to these patients in an attempt to slow the progress of the disease and control the symptoms. Hence, the main target of these treatments is to give the patient life quality despite the illness. Luckily, organizations around the world offer education to caregivers about dementia care and how to take care of patients with these specific diseases. 

How can you prevent brain degeneration?

Since the population aging has become a phenomenon, the increase of neurodegenerative diseases is a matter to take care of. Although having a genetic component, there is proof that the prevention of these diseases is key and represents the ideal solution. Alzheimer’s is the most common neurodegenerative disease among older people, and some factors may promote its appearance. For example, metabolic syndrome is a public health issue nowadays worldwide that may lead to the development of this specific entity. That is why the prevention should focus on:

  • Doing exercise regularly
  • Controlling fats and sugar levels in the diet and initiating a heart-healthy diet high in proteins, vegetables, and fruits, reducing processed foods.
  • Reducing obesity
  • Controlling high blood pressure levels by visiting a cardiologist and initiating therapy if needed
  • Keep mental activity like reading a book, playing a musical instrument, maintain social interactions

Furthermore, these recommendations lead to a healthy lifestyle, helps the blood circulation and the heart. Several studies recognize the impact of these changes on the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. However, there is no scientific proof that it can prevent other diseases like Parkinson’s disease or ALS; doctors recommend taking care of these daily life issues. By taking care of these aspects of everyday life, the patient can prevent several conditions, not only neurodegenerative diseases but also heart diseases.

Are you having symptoms of degenerative brain disease?

Luckily, there are these tools, Alzheimer’s disease symptoms checker and Parkinson’s disease symptoms checker. It will help people to determine the likelihood of having these conditions because it gathers the most important signs, symptoms, and risk factors of them. Therefore, it will be an important aid in their early prevention. And, the best of it, these tools are free and to use them will only take a few minutes.

What do you think?

Written by Dr. Esteban Kosak

Doctor of Medicine - MD Recently Graduated from Medical School and inspired to aid the global population during this situation. I think that we shall no longer be waiting to see a doctor when we feel sick. Several times we feel disease searches in Google drive us to a rabbit hole and come out thinking that we may die of cancer or something very serious, given that symptoms may seem to fit a wide variety of illnesses. Since I recently graduated from medical school. I have all the medical information fresh in my mind. My thorough experience as an expert researcher allows me to very-well known the different diseases and conditions that affect human bodies. Empowered by the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs). I think that we all can provide a grain of sand to help humanity. That's why we created Symptoms.Care a place where you can come and screen your symptoms and find what different illnesses can be related to them. Armed with the right information you can instantly, discretely, secure and from the comfort of your home talk with a Doctor that can Evaluate your Symptoms and help you seek the right treatment.

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