Brain

Epilepsy

What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a chronic disorder causing abnormal firing of nerve cells in the brain. The illness causes the brain to experience seizures. These seizures may affect thinking, consciousness or muscle activity in any or all parts of the body. Seizures are most often controlled by taking medication regularly.

When parts of the brain receive a burst of abnormal electrical signals, this can temporarily interrup normal brain function and result in a seizure.

There are multiple potential causes for epilepsy, including:

  • An imbalance of nerve-signaling chemicals called neurotransmitters
  • Tumors
  • Strokes
  • Brain damage from illness or injury

Epilepsy is a condition that has to be diagnosed by a doctor, so consider making an appointment if you have some/all of these warning signs:

  • Staring
  • Jerking movements of the arms and legs
  • Stiffening of the body
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Breathing problems or breathing stops
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Falling suddenly for no apparent reason, especially when associated with loss of consciousness
  • Not responding to noise or words for brief periods
  • Appearing confused or in a haze
  • Nodding the head rhythmically, when associated with loss of awareness or even loss of consciousness
  • Periods of rapid eye blinking and staring

Call 911 if:

  • The person has never had a seizure before
  • The person has difficulty breathing or waking after the seizure
  • The seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes
  • The person has another seizure soon after the first one
  • The person is hurt during the seizure
  • The seizure happens in water
  • The person has a health condition like diabetes, heart disease, or is pregnant

Modifying your lifestyle can make an impact on epilepsy symptoms.

  • Take your medications as directed, and never change your dosage without the direction of a doctor
  • Make sure you get an adequate amount of sleep each night, as a lack of sleep can trigger seizures
  • Wear a medic alert bracelet to let emergency personnel know you have Epilepsy
  • Exercise to help improve your health

If you have epilepsy, do should have at least one regular visit with your doctor a year. You should also visit with a Neurologist within 3 months if hospitalized or if you’ve had two or more emergency room encounters for epilepsy within 90 days.

If you need additional resources to help manage your epilepsy, contact our Healthcare Navigator Nurses.

You can also visit the Epilepsy Foundation’s website for more information.

Multiple Sclerosis

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disorder affecting the brain, spinal cord and the myelin sheaths around the peripheral nerves. Myelin sheaths are layers around the nerves that promote the movement of electrical impulses along the nerves. The cause of the disorder is unknown. The progression of the disease varies from patient to patient with flare-ups and remissions.

If you are worried that you have symptoms of MS, it is important to consult a health professional so that you can get the correct diagnosis. There is no definitive test for MS and diagnosis will involve considering the various symptoms and ruling out other explanations. This process can take some time.

Early warning signs that can indicate the need for assessment by doctors include:

  • fatigue (a kind of exhaustion which is out of all proportion to the task undertaken)
  • stumbling more than before
  • unusual feelings in the skin (such as pins and needles or numbness)
  • slowed thinking
  • problems with eyesight

Risk factors for developing the condition include:

Age

MS can occur at any age, but onset usually occurs around 20 and 40 years of age. However, younger and older people can be affected.

Sex

Women are more than 2 to 3 times as likely as men are to have relapsing-remitting MS.

Family history

If one of your parents or siblings has had MS, you are at higher risk of developing the disease.

Certain infections

A variety of viruses have been linked to MS, including Epstein-Barr, the virus that causes infectious mononucleosis.

Race

White people, particularly those of Northern European descent, are at highest risk of developing MS. People of Asian, African or Native American descent have the lowest risk. A recent study suggests that the number of Black and Hispanic young adults with multiple sclerosis may be greater than previously thought.

Climate

MS is far more common in countries with temperate climates, including Canada, the northern United States, New Zealand, southeastern Australia and Europe. Your birth month may also affect the chances of developing multiple sclerosis, since exposure to the sun when a mother is pregnant seems to decrease later development of multiple sclerosis in these children.

Vitamin D

Having low levels of vitamin D and low exposure to sunlight is associated with a greater risk of MS.

Your genes

A gene on chromosome 6p21 has been found to be associated with multiple sclerosis.

Obesity

An association with obesity and multiple sclerosis has been found in females. This is especially true for female childhood and adolescent obesity.

Certain autoimmune diseases

You have a slightly higher risk of developing MS if you have other autoimmune disorders such as thyroid disease, pernicious anemia, psoriasis, type 1 diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease.

Smoking

Smokers who experience an initial symptom that may signal MS are more likely than nonsmokers to develop a second event that confirms relapsing-remitting MS.

A lack of feeling or a pins-and-needles sensation can be the first sign of nerve damage from MS. It usually happens in your face, arms, or legs, and on one side of your body. It tends to go away on its own.

Numbness and tingling can also come from a lack of blood flow or a pinched nerve, so think first if you slept in a funny position or sat without moving for a long time. Other conditions can also lead to nerve damage: Carpal tunnel syndrome affects your wrist, while diabetic neuropathy can trigger numbness, tingling, or pain in your feet or hands.

Sudden numbness on one side of your body may signal a stroke. If that happens to you, call 911 ASAP. Learn more about causes of numbness and tingling in your limbs.

To help relieve the signs and symptoms of MS, try to:

Get plenty of rest

Look at your sleep habits to make sure you’re getting the best possible sleep. To make sure you’re getting enough sleep, you may need to be evaluated — and possibly treated — for sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea.

Exercise

If you have mild to moderate MS, regular exercise can help improve your strength, muscle tone, balance, and coordination. Swimming or other water exercises are good options if you have intolerance to heat. Other types of mild to moderate exercise recommended for people with MS include walking, stretching, low-impact aerobics, stationary bicycling, yoga and tai chi.

Cool down

MS symptoms may worsen when the body temperature rises in some people with MS. Avoiding exposure to heat and using devices such as cooling scarves or vests can be helpful.

Eat a balanced diet

Since there is little evidence to support a particular diet, experts recommend a generally healthy diet. Some research suggests that vitamin D may have potential benefit for people with MS.

Relieve stress

Stress may trigger or worsen your signs and symptoms. Yoga, tai chi, massage, meditation or deep breathing may help.

For more information, visit the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation.

Parkinson's Disease

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a disorder resulting from a deficiency of dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain. This disorder may cause muscle tremors or rigidity, lack of facial expression, difficulty walking, droopy posture, depression, or changes in mental function.

Parkinson’s disease is caused by a loss of nerve cells in the part of the brain called the substantia nigra.

Dopamine acts as a messenger between the parts of the brain and nervous system that help control and co-ordinate body movements.

If these nerve cells die or become damaged, the amount of dopamine in the brain is reduced.

This means the part of the brain controlling movement cannot work as well as normal, causing movements to become slow and abnormal.

The loss of nerve cells is a slow process. The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease usually only start to develop when around 50% of the nerve cell activity in the substantia nigra have been lost.

Early warning signs that can indicate the need for assessment by doctors include:

Tremor

A tremor, or rhythmic shaking, usually begins in a limb, often your hand or fingers. You may rub your thumb and forefinger back and forth. This is known as a pill-rolling tremor. Your hand may tremble when it’s at rest. The shaking may decrease when you are performing tasks.

Slowed movement (bradykinesia)

Over time, Parkinson’s disease may slow your movement, making simple tasks difficult and time-consuming. Your steps may become shorter when you walk. It may be difficult to get out of a chair. You may drag or shuffle your feet as you try to walk.

Rigid muscles

Muscle stiffness may occur in any part of your body. The stiff muscles can be painful and limit your range of motion.

Impaired posture and balance

Your posture may become stooped. Or you may fall or have balance problems as a result of Parkinson’s disease.

Loss of automatic movements

You may have a decreased ability to perform unconscious movements, including blinking, smiling or swinging your arms when you walk.

Speech changes

You may speak softly, quickly, slur or hesitate before talking. Your speech may be more of a monotone rather than have the usual speech patterns.

Writing changes

It may become hard to write, and your writing may appear small.

Risk factors for developing the condition include: Parkinson’s Disease affects men more than women, and studies are currently underway to try to understand additional risk factors. One risk that is clear is age. Most people develop the condition after age 60, while up to 10% of those with the condition experience the onset of symptoms before they turn 50. What does having Parkinson’s Disease feel like? Parkinson’s Disease symptoms worsen as the condition progresses over time. Early on, your face may show little or no expression. Your arms may not swing when you walk. Your speech may become soft or slurred.

To help relieve the signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease try to:

Eat Healthy

While no food or combination of foods has been proved to help in Parkinson’s disease, some foods may help ease some of the symptoms. For example, eating foods high in fiber and drinking plenty of fluids can help prevent constipation that is common in Parkinson’s disease.

A balanced diet also provides nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, that might be beneficial for people with Parkinson’s disease.

Exercise

Exercising may increase your muscle strength, flexibility and balance. Exercise can also improve your well-being and reduce depression or anxiety.

Your health care provider may suggest that you work with a physical therapist to learn an exercise program that works for you. You may also try exercises such as walking, swimming, gardening, dancing, water aerobics or stretching.

Parkinson’s disease can disturb your sense of balance, making it difficult to walk with your usual gait. Exercise may improve your balance. These suggestions may also help:

  • Try not to move too quickly
  • Aim for your heel to strike the floor first when you’re walking
  • If you notice yourself shuffling, stop and check your posture. It’s best to stand up straight
  • Look in front of you, not directly down, while walking
  • Avoid falls
  • In the later stages of the disease, you may fall more easily. In fact, you may be thrown off balance by just a small push or bump. The following suggestions may help:
  • Make a U-turn instead of pivoting your body over your feet
  • Distribute your weight evenly between both feet, and don’t lean
  • Avoid carrying things while you walk
  • Avoid walking backward

If you have Parkinson’s Disease do this every year:

  • One visit to the doctor a year. In the later stages more frequent follow-up may be required to manage the disease.