What is a neurological deficit?

A neurological deficit is a functional impairment caused by a problem with the brain. Some examples may include weakness on one side of the body, loss of coordination, and slurred speech. Any injury that affects the brain can lead to neurological deficits and patients can also be born with disabilities as a result of problems with fetal development. Treatment is available, depending on the nature of the problem.

The brain uses a complex series of circuits to transmit information to handle everything from logic to walking. If a problem develops along a circuit, the body may not function normally. In a person with a neurological deficit, a signal is not transmitted at all or is confused by the brain and errors occur. With voluntary movements, this can lead to uncontrolled or weak movements, and for involuntary movements and reflexes, it can mean that something is not happening at all, or that the patient is experiencing spasms while trying to do things like breathe.

A stroke can be the cause of a neurological deficit, as can tumors, degenerative brain diseases, and head injuries. These functional problems are often the first warning sign of a problem with the brain, and they can come on gradually. Someone may begin to experience low-level clumsiness that, over time, develops into more serious problems, such as not being able to walk, having trouble controlling their hands with even simple movements, and difficulty speaking and swallowing.

When a patient appears to have a neurological deficit, medical imaging can be helpful in locating the damage in the brain and discovering which pathways are not working properly. A doctor may also perform a physical exam, asking a patient to move the affected body part and seeing how well the patient is able to function. The doctor can determine the source of the neurological deficit and begin to develop a treatment plan. This could include addressing the root cause, such as surgery to remove a brain tumor, as well as things like physical therapy to improve function and skills.

Progressive neurological deficits can become disabling. A patient who is unable to recover may require the help of an assistant or personal assistant as some tasks become more difficult. Some problems, such as difficulty swallowing, can also pose a health risk; patients may be at increased risk of aspiration of food or vomiting, and could develop complications such as pneumonia. It is important to evaluate a patient regularly for early warning signs of secondary problems to ensure that the patient receives treatment in a timely manner.

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