Neurology Insights

The Most Common Red Flags in Neurology

Girl holding her head with a blurred image indicating dizziness as a symptom of Neurological condition in Naples, FL

We all have off days when things just don’t feel right. Sometimes, those moments are easier to identify than others.

Fever and chills in the middle of holiday season? It’s most likely the flu. Sneezing and running nose? It could be the common cold or seasonal allergies. With most common illnesses, the remedy and course of action are straightforward.

But, when it comes to neurological symptoms, pinpointing what is causing them is often challenging, yet it’s crucial to take them seriously. Here are five neurological symptoms that should not be overlooked:

1) Dizziness and Loss of Balance

Ask a child what dizziness is, and they’ll probably demonstrate it for you, spinning in circles until tumbling to the ground or staggering about. This sensation is made possible by the balance organ located in the inner ear canal, known as the vestibular system. This region is made up of three fluid-filled canals that respond to changes in gravity and motion. The purpose of this sensation is to help our bodies maintain balance and let us know where we are in space.

And, while momentary dizziness is common after an amusement ride or on a cruise ship, persistent dizziness, particularly if it’s coupled with other symptoms, warrants closer examination.

Patients typically describe dizziness as a feeling of faintness, lightheadedness, or instability.

The most common neurological causes of dizziness include:

  • Migraine: Chronic migraines may provoke vestibular disturbances, leading to sensations of dizziness.
  • TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack), also known as “mini-stroke”: Dizziness is one of the earliest symptoms of a mini-stroke due to lack of blood flow to the brain.
  • Multiple Sclerosis: For some patients with MS, regions of the brain that control movement and balance can be affected. Feeling lightheaded and dizzy is a symptom that can arise during a flare-up.
  • Brain Tumor: Pressure from a tumor in the area of the brain responsible for balance and spatial orientation can result in the symptoms of dizziness.

2) Numbness

We all know what it feels like to sit or stand in the same position for too long. Temporary numbness and tingling, caused by reduced blood flow to the area or direct compression on a nerve twig for too long, can be easily stopped with movement. However, if varied pain symptoms accompany recurrent numbness and tingling, it can be a clue to something more.

Symptoms of numbness can be described as a pins and needles sensation (paresthesia), a burning sensation (dysesthesia), or increased sensitivity to pain (hyperpathia).

The most common neurological causes of numbness are:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: Also known as nerve entrapment disorder, Carpal tunnel occurs when the median nerve becomes compressed along the wrist site, resulting in inflammation and numbness in the palm as well as the thumb and next three digits.
  • Stroke: Sudden numbness or muscle weakness on one side of the body is a stroke symptom requiring immediate attention.
  • Neuropathy: In diabetic neuropathy, nerve damage can affect the hands and feet. Symptoms like numbness, tingling, and sensitivity to touch are early signs of nerve damage. However, there are many other causes of neuropathy.
  • Multiple Sclerosis: In MS patients, sensory symptoms occur in an ebb and flow, and numbness can occur in one or both hands or legs.

3) Loss of Senses

Our five senses are how we stay in touch with the world around us. Temporary sensorial impairment can result from a viral infection or acute injury.

However, sudden or reoccurring sensory loss is something to be taken seriously.

The most common neurological causes of sensory loss are:

  • Parkinson’s Disease: Neurological damage is responsible for multiple loss of senses in Parkinson’s, including loss of taste and visual impairment.
  • Multiple Sclerosis: Reoccurring sensory loss in taste, hearing, vision, smell, and touch is common in this autoimmune disease.
  • Stroke: In the event of a stroke, sudden sensory loss, such as vision loss, can occur during the event. Post-stroke sensory loss can include disruption to taste and hearing.
  • Alzheimer’s Disease: While primarily associated with memory loss, this degenerative brain disease can also affect the senses, particularly smell and taste.
  • Infection: We are all acutely aware of the “loss of smell and taste” issues with Covid 19 infections. Many other infections can produce similar issues.

Other conditions that can lead to sensory disruptions include traumatic brain injuries, diabetes-related neuropathies, Alzheimer’s disease, brain tumors, Bell’s palsy, and zinc and other vitamin deficiencies.

4) Weakness or Muscle Fatigue

Muscle weakness or fatigue can be particularly alarming when it occurs suddenly or without a clear cause. It might manifest as reduced strength in one or more muscles, difficulty initiating movements, or a rapid onset of fatigue during activities that were previously easy.

The most common neurological causes of muscle weakness or fatigue include:

  • Guillain-Barré Syndrome: An acute condition where the body’s immune system attacks the nerves, leading to rapid muscle weakness and possible paralysis.
  • Myasthenia Gravis: A chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease characterized by varying degrees of weakness of the body’s skeletal (voluntary) muscles.
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS): Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, leading to loss of muscle control.
  • Muscular Dystrophy: A group of genetic diseases that cause progressive weakness and loss of muscle mass.

5) Confusion

It can be normal to have an occasional moment of forgetfulness or slight confusion, but when these symptoms intensify or persist, it can be a cause for concern. Confusion is a clear indication that the brain is struggling with cognition and perception and can be distressing and disorienting.

Patients often report symptoms of confusion as feeling disoriented, having difficulty remembering recent events, struggling with decision-making, or experiencing trouble understanding or processing new information. They frequently complain that they feel like they “are in a fog.”

The most common neurological causes of confusion are:

  • Stroke: A stroke can impair blood flow to the brain, leading to sudden confusion and difficulties with speech and understanding.
  • Infections: Infections, such as encephalitis or meningitis, can cause inflammation in the brain, resulting in confusion and altered consciousness.
  • Dementia: Various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease, progressively erode cognitive functions, often presenting confusion as an early symptom.
  • Electrolyte Imbalance: Abnormal levels of electrolytes in the blood can affect brain function and lead to confusion.

When Should I See a Neurologist?

Knowing when it’s time to see your physician or a neurologist can be just as important as recognizing these neurological symptoms. You may have noticed that many neurological conditions share overlapping symptoms. These symptoms can be subtle red flags of underlying conditions that require an expert diagnosis to identify and address the underlying condition accurately.

A Message From Dr. Kandel

“My rule of thumb for suggesting medical/neurologic evaluation is to ask yourself a simple question, “if it was my spouse, or a loved one, would I want them to get this checked out? “. If the answer is yes, then don’t hesitate, by all means, you should contact your physician, or seek neurologic attention to have the symptoms evaluated. You will never be sorry for having your condition assessed, but may be disappointed if you did not seek medical care in a timely fashion and your condition worsened needlessly.”

Dr. Joseph Kandel portrait

Joseph Kandel, MD

Board Certified Neurologist
Serving Naples and Fort Myers, FL

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