Medicine is as much defined by diseases as by the people who named them. Neurology particularly has a proud history of eponymous disorders which I discussed in my other neurology blog, Neurochecklists Updates, with the title 45 neurological disorders with unusual EPONYMS in neurochecklists. In many cases, it is a no brainer that Benjamin Duchenne described Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Charle’s Bell is linked to Bell’s palsy, Guido Werdnig and Johann Hoffmann have Werdnig-Hoffmann disease named after them. Similarly, Sergei Korsakoff described Korsakoff’s psychosis, Adolf Wellenberg defined Wellenberg’s syndrome, and it is Augusta Dejerine Klumpke who discerned Klumpke’s paralysis. The same applies to neurological clinical signs, with Moritz Romberg and Romberg’s sign, Henreich Rinne and Rinne’s test, Joseph Babinski and Babinski sign, and Joseph Brudzinski with Brudzinki’s sign.
Yes, it could become rather tiresome. But not when it comes to diseases which, for some reason, never had any names attached to them. Whilst we can celebrate Huntington, Alzheimer, Parkinson, and Friedreich, who defined narcolepsy and delirium tremens? This blog is therefore a chance to celebrate the lesser known history of neurology, and to inject some fairness into the name game. Here then are 25 non-eponymous neurological diseases and the people who discovered, fully described, or named them.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a fairy tale that is beyond comparison in its implausible scenarios and outlandish characters. It intrigues and fascinates in equal measure, and it has held generations of children and adults spellbound since its publication in 1865. The fantasy is as fanciful as Lewis Carroll, the pseudonym of the author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.
As outrageous and as preposterous as it is, the book actually confirms the truism that most works of fiction are grounded in hard reality. In their excellent article, Alice in Wonderland Syndrome: A Historical and Medical Review, Osman Farooq and Edward Fine demonstrated that Alice’s adventures are not a figment of the author’s imagination, but the depiction of his real-life illusory experiences. Lewis Carroll suffered from migraine, and Alice was a perfect incarnation of the visual distortions that accompany this very common and debilitating disorder. Therefore, when lay people read that Alice’s body “had grown too tall or too small”, the stoney-eyed neuroscientists only see macropsia and micropsia, objects appearing larger or smaller than they actually are. When ordinary folks read that “parts of her body were changing shape, size, or relationship to the rest of her body”, the neurologist just sighs and yawns…migraineauras again! What spoilsports they are!
But we mustn’t be distracted or derailed from the theme of today, Alice in Wonderland syndrome (AIWS). This fascinating disorder, and a disorder it is according to neurologists, puts us in a circular situation: fiction first mimicked fact to produce Alice, and fact then imitated fiction to produce a real ailment. I know, it all sounds absurd. But what did you expect with this theme!
What then is the cause of these illusory experiences that literally blow the mind? Yung-Ting Kuo and colleagues attribute it all to reduction in blood flow to the visual centers in the brain. And how many disorders may do this? Because this is neurology we are talking about…almost anything. The common culprits however are migraine, epilepsy, LSD, an assortment of intoxicants, and a menagerie of braininfections. The syndrome has also been reported in a host of psychiatric and organic brain disorders such as Cotard syndrome, Capgras syndrome, depression, and schizophrenia. More worrying however is the association of the syndrome with prescription medications. One such drug is Topiramate, a medicine neurologists prescribe to prevent, among other conditions, migraine! And another, Aripiprazole, is paradoxically an excellent treatment for…hallucinations!
As bizarre as Alice’s adventures are, Alice in Wonderland syndrome goes much farther: people with the syndrome experience a wider variety of even more grotesque illusory experiences than Lewis Carroll ever imagined. A recent paper in the journal, Neurology Clinical Practice, shows just how grotesque. Titled Clinical Characteristics of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome in a Cohort with Vestibular Migraine, the authors provide an almost endless list of unusual clinical manifestations of AIWS. The prize must however go the illusion that thebrain is coming out of the head! There you go Lewis Carroll, you may eat your mad hat: fact will always be stranger than fiction!
The Neurology Lounge is always on the lookout for catchy neurology article titles to adorn its shelves. My previous blog post in this quest was The art of spinning catchy titles.
Since then, there have been quite a few brilliant article titles that have caught my fancy. We must acknowledge the wordsmiths who craftily and meticulously think up these magical headlines; they put in a lot of thought to conjure up the right words to use. The look into their crystal balls to predict the best way to play around with the meanings. With a bit of lexical alchemy, they miraculously come up with the titles that make us do a double-take, but do so with a smile. Below are 9 such catchy titles.
This title reflects the science suggesting that Parkinson’s disease originates from the gut. This editorial restates the proposition that α-synuclein starts accumulating in the intestines before migrating, up the vagus nerve, ‘in a prion-like fashion’, to the brain.
Patent foramen ovale (PFO) is a hole in the heart which connects the upper two heart chambers, or atria. It normally closes after birth, but in some people it persists to cause some grief to cardiologists and neurologists. Whether a PFO causes migraine or not is a long standing contentious issue in Neurology. The authors of this study found no link between migraine and (PFO). The title is brilliant, but the tone of finality is probably premature; I guess this debate is far from over.
And still on migraine is this headline grabber. A bit on the basic science spectrum, I quote from the abstract to give you a flavour: ‘This review focuses on recent structural and functional neuroimaging studies that investigated the role of subcortical and cortical structures in modulating nociceptive input in migraine, which outlined the presence of an imbalance between inhibitory and excitatory modulation of pain processing in the disease‘. I would rather stick with the punchy headline myself.
This is a clear play on the defining feature of neuromyelitis optica (NMO), a long segment of inflammation in the spinal cord. This is what neurologists call longitudinally extensive transverse myelitis (LETM). This is an excellent editorial, worthy of the headline. It emphasises the point that NMO really has no defining features, not even the presence of the ‘defining’ antibody, anti-aquaporin 4- just ask anti-MOG NMO about this
How do you prevent a harmful preventative practice?. By a paper with a title that is pure genius of course. The authors of this paper highlight the persisting, anti-guideline, practice of using prophylactic antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) in people who have had intracerebral haemorrhage (ICH). The paper rhetorically asks if this has ‘become a habit too difficult to break?’ Not going by this catchy headline!
Parasomnias are diseases that occur during or related to sleep. This headline is for an editorial on a new parasomnia called anti IgLON5 antibody disorder. This is the subject of my previous blog post titled IgLON5: a new antibody disorder for neurologists. The headline writer here is clearly a fan of John Milton. I however struggled to make the connection between the excellent headline and the subject of the paper. I however presume it relates to the ‘loss of sleep paralysis‘ that accompanies many sleep disorders, including the quintessential parasomnia- REM sleep behaviour disorder (RBD). Excellent title anyway.
With a slightly wicked wit, this headline focuses on the slow walking speed of people with hereditary spastic paraplegia (HSP), contrasting this with the increasing research output on the disease. A bit dated I admit, but the paper refers to work which identified the genetic basis of SPG3, one of the commoner HSPs. A lesson in headline writing from the archives you may say.
The headline is brilliant, but the content goes way over my head. It is an editorial on a basic science paper. For the curious and the nerdy, I quote an extract: ‘during synapse elimination in the developing neuromuscular junction, branch-specific microtubule destabilization results in arrested axonal transport and induces axon branch loss. This process is mediated in part by the neurodegeneration-associated, microtubule-severing protein spastin‘. Enough I hear you say. OK, just stick with the headline.
Do you have any catchy titles-please drop a comment.
Neurologists often refer their patients with headache for a brain MRI scan. Quite often the reason for this is to reassure their patients who are worried about a sinister cause for their headache…and the anxiety provoking culprit is usually a brain tumour. The headache is often a migraine which has recently changed in character, or which is defying conventional treatment.
The neurologist is often ambivalent when requesting such scans. On the one hand, she expects the scan to be normal. On the other hand, she can not be certain there is indeed no sinister cause for the headaches. Another thing also bothers the neurologist, beyond the chance of detecting a brain tumour. And this is the ‘risk’ that the brain scan detects ‘incidental’ findings called white matter lesions (WML). Alas, these reassurograms frequently pick up these less sinister, but nevertheless unexplained, findings.
White matter lesions are often just age-related, ‘wear and tear’ changes, and they are more common in people with vascular risk factors such as hypertension, smoking and raised cholesterol levels. Neurologists generally believe migraine is also a risk factor for white matter lesions. And there are several studies to support this belief.
With this strong evidence, neurologists are able to convince themselves there is nothing to these MRI high signal changes in their patients with migraine. No ‘chicken and egg’ philosophical equivocation is entertained. The scans are sometimes discussed at neuroradiology meetings where everybody murmurs ‘migraine white matter lesions’. All doubt dispelled, the neurologist reassures the patient, and hurriedly closes the chapter.
The authors studied female twin pairs aged between 30–60 years. The twins were identified through the population-based Danish Twin Registry. The authors compared the MRI scans of the subjects with and without migraine, and found no difference in the frequency of white matter changes between the two groups. They proudly, and disconcertingly, declare that ‘we found no evidence of an association between silent brain infarcts, white matter hyperintensities, and migraine with aura‘.
Oh dear-what do neurologists tell their patients now? I shudder to think!
Neurology is a broad specialty covering a staggering variety of diseases. Some neurological disorders are vanishingly rare, but many are household names, or at least vaguely familiar to most people. These are the diseases which define neurology. Here, in alphabetical order, is my list of the top 60 iconic neurological diseases, with links to previous blog posts where available.
The Neurology Lounge has a way to go to address all these diseases, but they are all fully covered in neurochecklists. In a future post, I will look at the rare end of the neurological spectrum and list the 75 strangest and most exotic neurological disorders.
I am casting my sight on the scourge of millions around the world-migraine. This post is a prelude to a piece I am working on titled How is migraine research soothing the pain of neurology? In doing this, I came across a few curiosities which I thought would do nicely as a separate post. Therefore, before the real stuff, here are 8 strange and surprising migraine associations.
α. Migraine and the weather
Some migraineurs know that their migraine attacks are related to changes in the weather. For them therefore, the science is just catching up. This piece from the American Migraine Foundationsummarises some recent articles which discuss the weather alterations that may trigger migraine headaches. The fingers are pointing at low barometric pressure, high environmental temperature, strong winds, and…wait for it…> 3hours of sunshine!
Migraine sufferers will really balk at the scary report of migraine as a risk factor for Parkinson’s disease (PD). This is the conclusion of a research work published in the journal Cephalalgia (really just a fancy word for headache). The authors followed up >40,000 people to see if those with migraine are more likely to develop PD than those without. Curious indeed! I have to confess, whatever the hazard ratios say, that I was not impressed by the difference in numbers developing PD of 148 versus 101.
δ. Migraine and radiotherapy
I’m not trying to be smart, but SMART syndrome is real. It is an acronym for Stroke-like migraine attacks after radiation therapy. It is easy for neurologists to miss this condition because it sets in years after the radiation treatment. There is however a clue in the MRI of people with SMART syndrome: cortical thickening and gadolinium enhancement in the area of brain treated with radiation. It’s simple really!
ε. Migraine and raised intracranial pressure
An article in Journal of Neurology reports that many people with unrelenting migraine have raised pressure in the brain (raised intracranial pressure or ICP). The article, titled association of unresponsive chronic migraine and raised intracranial pressure, showed that reducing the pressure by a spinal tap (lumbar puncture) leads to sustained remission of migraine. Neurologists diagnose raised ICP by look into the back of the eye for a sign called papilledema. This article however throws a spanner in the works because >75% of the people with migraine and raised ICP in the study did not have papilledema. What do the headache gurus have to say about this, I wonder?
ζ. Migraine and stroke
Neurologists really haven’t sorted this one out yet. We struggle to give our patients a straightforward answer to their simple question, ‘does migraine cause stroke?‘ This is because the literature on this is all smoke and mirrors, and recent papers do little to clear the air. Take this paper in a recent issue of Neurology titled Age-specific association of migraine with cryptogenic TIA and stroke. The authors could only conclude that there is probably a causal or shared risk, and this only in older people. The accompanying editorial, titled Migraine and cryptogenic stroke: the clot thickens, concludes that there may be a higher risk of stroke in migraineurs, but this is in those with other traditional stroke risk factors in the first place. A shaky association I say, but one not to be dismissed too hastily.
η. Migraine and teeth-grinding
I did say these are strange links. Teeth grinding or bruxism is not something neurologists would give a second thought to, but a review article in Practical Neurology says we should think again. Titled Bruxism in the Neurology Clinic, the review says bruxism is closely linked to migraine, and sleep bruxism is only associated with migraine. There is much more to bruxism and neurology; the authors suggests that bruxism may be a form of oromandibular dystonia, and it may arise from dysregulation in the basal ganglia. Quite a lot to chew! Dentists out there should be very worried-the neurologists are out to expand their territory.
θ. Migraine and hiccups
And finally a report which links migraine and hiccups. Again from Cephalalgia, this is a case series of people with migraine who report hiccups as aura of migraine. Strange and surprising indeed!
Uncertainty and doubt abound in Neurology. There are many evidence-free areas where experts rub each other the wrong way. These controversies are big and occur in all neurology subspecialties. Controversy-busters have tried for about a decade to iron out these wrinkles on neurology’s face, but the unanswered questions remain. This is why there is a 10th World Congress of Controversies in Neurology (CONy) holding in Lisbon this year.
I want to assure you I have no conflict of interest to declare in this blog. My interest is to explore which questions have plagued this conference over the last 10 years to pick out the most controversial topics in neurology. To do this I reviewed all previous conference programs and focused on the items that were slated for debate. I looked for practical topics that have remained unresolved, or are just emerging. Here are my top controversial neurological questions:
Which should be the first-line therapy for CIDP? Steroids vs. IVIg
Should disease-modifying treatment be changed if only imaging findings worsen in multiple sclerosis?
Should disease-modifying therapies be stopped when secondary progressive MS develops?
Should non-convulsive status epilepsy be treated aggressively?
Does traumatic chronic encephalopathy (CTE) exist?
Does corticobasal degeneration (CBD) exist as a clinico-pathological entity?
Is ß-amyloid still a relevant target in AD therapy?
Will electrical stimulation replace medications for the treatment of cluster headache?
Carotid dissection: Should anticoagulants be used?
Is the ABCD2 grading useful for clinical management of TIA patients?
Do COMT inhibitors have a future in treatment of Parkinson’s disease?
Going through this list, I feel reassured that the experts differ in their answers to these questions? The acknowledgement of uncertainty allows us novices to avoid searching for non-existent black and white answers. It is however also unsettling that I thought some of these questions had been settled long ago. It goes to show that apparently established assumptions are not unshakable?
Do you have the definitive answers to resolve these controversies? Are there important controversies that are missing here? Please leave a comment
The armoury of the neurologist is traditionally a cocktail of tablets and injections. The neurosurgeons and neuroradiologists seem to have all the fancy gadgets. This may however be changing with techniques that are gradually creeping into neurological practice. One such technique is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). This is a non-invasive method of stimulating specific parts of the brainusing a magnetic field generator or coil.
The classical neurological application of TMS is in the treatment and prevention of migraine. The role of TMS in migraine has been fairly well-studied although the impact on symptoms is modest. There is however enough evidence to convince the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence to issue NICE guidelines on TMS. These, as expected, prescribed hope and caution in equal measure.
What of TMS as a cognitive enhancer? I came across the report that TMS may boost memory in Gizmag. OK it’s not a neurology journal but it made a more exciting headline than the original study published in Science under the elusive title targeted enhancement of cortical-hippocampal brain networks and associative memory. In simple language, TMS may enhance the neural networks in the hippocampus, the brains memory hub. Whilst the study was carried out in people with normal memory, there are implications for cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease if the potential and promise of TMS are realised.
A further surprising application of TMS, potential of course, is in dyslexia. Thisis an emerging field, still under investigation, but imagine the potential this will unleash! There is a helpful review articlein Neuroimmunology and Neuroinflammation whichdiscusses the role of rapid rate TMS in the treatment of dyslexia.
We’re not quite there yet but there is hope for the neurological arsenal; who knows, we may soon dispense with all these difficult to swallow pills and cumbersome to deliver injections!
There is an astounding variety of reasons why a patient may be referred to a neurologist. The neurologist is easily identified as a brain doctor, and the patient may, after all, just have some tingling in the feet or some flickering of the muscles. Many patients may only have heard of prominent neurologists such as Oliver Sacks.
Apart from the fact that both are bearded, there is absolutely nothing similar to the practice of Sacks and Freud. You may refer to my post on the 100 all-time most influential neurologists for a flavour of the diverse and prominent neurologists.
And this is what baffles patients; their inability to pigeon-hole a neurologist. Most medical specialists are easily identified by the restricted range of patients they see but neurology has a bewildering diversity of specialties. A cardiologist or a nephrologist comes with a clear label on the box, but the neurologist deals with conditions that extend from the top of the head to the tips of the toes.
Neurological conditions are broadly defined as either affecting the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) or the peripheral nervous system. Each of these then has several subspecialties that are mind-boggling.
The peripheral nervous system for instance consists of a diversity of motor and sensory nerves, and these communicate with organs, muscles and tissues all over the body. And there is an overwhelming array of things that can go wrong at each point of the nervous system, resulting in a myriad of nervous system diseases.
Peripheral nerve dysfunction may therefore give rise to disorders of the anterior horn cell, the nerve root, the ganglion, the neuromuscular junction, muscles, small and large nerve fibers. Each of these are further subclassified, a reflection of the diversity of neurological disorders. Take a look for example at the complex neuromuscular junction below, and you will appreciate the literally countless things that may go amiss.
The diversity of neurological problems was brought home to me when I took up the task of compiling a database of neurology checklists. I blame Atul Gawande‘s Checklist Manifesto for this excursion on my part. The process was like opening up a can of worms; below is the broad range of major neurological disease categories I found:
Disorders of Cranial Nerves
Disorders of Cognition
Disorders of Consciousness
Other movement Disorders
Anterior Horn Cell disorders
Peripheral Nerve Disorders
Neuromuscular Junction (NMJ) disorders
Spinal Cord Disorders
Nervous System Tumours
Other Vascular Disorders
Neurology also has significant overlaps with other specialties, and neurologists often have to deal with:
Disorders of Allied Neurological Specialties
Neurological Disorders and General Medicine
What is so remarkable about neurology? It encompasses an unimaginable diversity of diseases. Many such as as migraine, Parkinson’s disease (PD) and peripheral neuropathy are common. For a taste of the diversity of these common diseases, see my previous blogs on neurology guidelines and neurology review articles. Many neurological diseases are however rare and complicated.
These are the remarkable things neurologist try to sort out. But how do they do it? How do they go about teasing out what is what? What is in the neurological toolbox? The key is the neurological consultation, an assessment so alien, using tools so scary, that it takes many patients aback: watch out for my future blog on The 20 Bizarre Things Neurologists Do To Their Patients.