Nerve disorders affect one or more of the body’s nervous systems and can potentially impact speech, motor skills, cognitive ability, heart function, and even breathing. In addition to the central nervous system, specific disorders can also involve the autonomic nervous system or the peripheral nervous system. While some conditions are genetically inherited and considered degenerative, others can occur over time due to impaired metabolic functioning, as is often the case with diabetes type I. Some problems are also attributed to bodily injury or trauma, long-term substance abuse, or chronic exposure to environmental toxins.
Degenerative, or progressive, nerve disorders are generally the most serious and difficult to treat. They also tend to run in families. These types of disorders include Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, and multiple sclerosis. While there are medications and occupational therapies available to help manage or minimize symptoms of some of these conditions, there is no cure for any of them. In addition, some occur more often in older patients, although they are not actually considered a normal part of aging.
Disorders of the cranial or facial nerves include vestibular schwannoma (also known as acoustic neuroma), Ménière's disease, and Bell’s palsy. Since vestibular schwannoma stems from benign tumor formations along the sheath cells of the cranial vestibulocochlear nerve, it is sometimes possible to relieve symptoms of the condition with surgical intervention or radiation. Ménière's disease, on the other hand, which is characterized by dizziness and hearing loss, is often due to damage to the inner ear by injury or viral infection. Bell’s palsy involves a temporary dysfunction of the fifth cranial nerve, resulting in paralysis or weakness in the muscles of one side of the face, a condition that usually improves on its own within a few weeks or months.
Peripheral nerve disorders are categorized into three broad types: peripheral neuropathy, autonomic neuropathy, and mononeuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is the most common type and typically produces a burning or tingling sensation in the legs and feet; however, nerve damage can progress and extend to the organs as well. Autonomic neuropathy involves various nerves that regulate many of the body’s internal functions, such as heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, digestion, and bladder control. In contrast, mononeuropathy is isolated to a single nerve or network of nerves, which is referred to as a trunk. This type of disorder can develop due to inflammation or chronic compression, such as that which occurs with carpal tunnel syndrome and sciatica.