What is the last word on migraine and PFOs?

This is surely one of neurology’s bug bears, the old chestnut. Just when one generation of neurologists thinks it has buried and sealed it in an impervious crypt, it resurrects to haunt the next breed. This cyclical and macabre dance of migraine and PFOs evokes a sense of deja vu every time it comes around. And each spawn of neurologists predictably picks up the gauntlet, answers the call to arms, and sets out to slaughter the ghost of migraines past.

By Lille1982 – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9682382

But let’s take a step back to basics with some definitions. The foramen ovale is just a ‘hole in the heart‘ between the right and left atria, or upper heart chambers. It is essential in foetal life because it enables circulating blood to bypass the superfluous foetal lungs (apologies to readers across the Atlantic for the superfluous ‘o’!). However, after birth, when blood needs to circulate through the now indispensable lungs, the foramen ovale becomes irrelevant. In most people, the foramen ovale humbly accepts its fate, crawls to a corner, and closes shop. But foramen ovales in some people are recalcitrant; standing their ground, they endure and survive as PFOs.

By DrJanaOfficial – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50477765

It is not clear how the myth started, but stories of migraine cure following surgical closure of PFO spread rapidly and widely. Very soon, migraineurs where demanding echocardiograms to check if they have PFOs lurking in their tickers. Research trials investigating this issue started as a trickle, and very soon become a flood. But rather than shed light, the conflicting results intensified the darkness. That is, until some indignant and determined neurologists and cardiologists set out to settle the matter once and for all. And the onslaught came in three waves of studies.

MIGRAINE. aka Tman on Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/rundwolf/331545021

The first wave in the attempt to slay the beast of migraine and PFO was a trial published in the journal Headache. Davinia Larrosa and colleagues studied 183 people with migraine and found that, whilst PFOs were larger and more permanent in people with migraine, there was no relationship between patent foramen ovale and migraine frequency.

Migraine spectrum. JoanDragonfly on Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/joandragonfly/26221136058

The second wave was a study published in the European Heart Journal by Heinrich Mattle and colleagues. In their PRIMA trial (Percutaneous Closure of PFO in Migraine with Aura), they blindly allocated or randomized half of their subjects with refractory migraine and PFO to have PFO closure surgery. And their verdict was, PFO closure did nothing to reduce the frequency of migraine.

Open the key to your heart. Maria Eklind on Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/mariaeklind/24659701809

The third wave, launched by Nauman Tariq and colleagues, took a different tack. They carried out a detailed review of practically all the studies that had addressed the subject. Their brilliantly titled paper, “Patent foramen ovale and migraine: closing the debate, reflected their ambition to settle the question once and for all. After an arduous trawl through the literature, and a mind-blowing crunching of statistics, the authors came to the conclusions that “there is no good quality evidence to support a link between migraine and PFO“, and “closure of PFO for migraine prevention does not significantly reduce the intensity and severity of migraine“.

By Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator – Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1488277

The final word therefore is, leave PFOs alone! But there is a big caveat. There is one situation where PFO is associated with migraine, and that is when it is accompanied by another heart anomaly called an atrial septal aneurysm (ASA). The evidence for this comes from Roel Snijder and colleagues, and the title of their paper says it all: Patent foramen ovale with atrial septal aneurysm is strongly associated with migraine with aura: a large observational study. We already knew that PFO associated with ASA increases the risk of stroke; we can now add to this, the risk of migraine with aura.

By H. Airy – Flatau 1912 “Migrena” monograph after previous publication of H. Airy, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7814450

The debate is now hopefully sealed and settled. But don’t hold your breath for too long: the phantom of migraine and PFO may just rear its hideous head again at a neuroscience centre near you.

 

15 more creative and catchy neurology headlines for 2019

Regular visitors to this blog know that we love catchy article titles. It is always heartwarming to see how some authors create imaginative and inventive headlines. This skill involves the ability to play with words, and the capacity to be double-edged. This is why this blog keeps a lookout for fascinating neurology titles. And in line with this tradition, and in no particular order of inventiveness, here are 15 more catchy neurology titles!

By Andrikkos – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33725735

15. Who do they think we are? Public perceptions of psychiatrists and psychologists

This paper, for some unfathomable reason, set out to ask if the public knows the difference between what psychiatrists and psychologists actually do. And the authors discovered that “there is a lack of clarity in the public mind about our roles”. More worryingly, or reassuringly (depending on your perspective), they also found out that “psychologists were perceived as friendlier and having a better rapport“. Not earth-shattering discoveries, but what a great title!

By Laurens van Lieshout – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2059674

14. OCT as a window to the MS brain: the view becomes slightly clearer

Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is a cool tool which measures the thickness of the retinal fiber layer (RFL). And it has the habit of popping its head up in many neurological specialties. In this case, the specialty is multiple sclerosis, and the subject is how OCT influences its diagnosis and surveillance. Surely a window into the brain is easier to achieve than one into the soul.

Optical coherence tomography of my retina. Brewbooks on Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/brewbooks/8463332137

13. A little man of some importance 

The homonculus is the grotesque representation of the body on the surface or cortex of the brain. This paper reviews how formidable neurosurgeons such as Wilder Penfield worked out the disproportionate dimensions of this diminutive but influential man. He (always a man for some reason) has giant hands, a super-sized mouth, very small legs, and a miniature trunk. The clever brain doesn’t readily allocate its resources to large body parts that perform no complex functions! But be warned, this article is no light-weight reading!

The Homunculus in Crystal Palace (Moncton). Mark Blevis on Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/electricsky/1298772544

12. Brain-focussed ultrasound: what’s the “FUS” all about? 

This title is a play on words around MR-guided focussed ultrasound surgery (MRgFUS), an emerging technique for treating disorders such as essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease (PD). This review looks at the controversial fuss that this technique has evoked.

By Luis Lima89989 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19162929

11. The Masks of Identities: Who’s Who? Delusional Misidentification Syndromes

This paper explores the interesting subject of delusional misidentification syndromes (DMSs). The authors argue that few concepts in psychiatry can be as confusing as DMSs. And they did an excellent job of clearing our befuddlement around delusions such as Capgras and Fregoli. Very apt title, very interesting read.

no identity. HaPe-Gera on Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/hape_gera/2929195528

 

10. Waking up to sleeping sickness.

This title belongs to a review of trypanosomiasis, aka sleeping sickness. It is a superb play on words, one that evokes several levels of meaning. It is simple and yet complex at the same time. Great imagination.

https://picryl.com/media/the-sleeping-sickness-gordon-ross

09. Brains and Brawn: Toxoplasma Infections of the Central Nervous System and Skeletal Muscle

This paper discusses two parts of nervous system that are affected by toxoplasmosis. Playing on the symbolic  contradiction between intellect and strength, the authors show how toxoplasmosis is an ecumenical abuser: it metes out the same fate to both brain and brawn.

Brain vs. Brawn. Yau Hoong Tang on Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/tangyauhoong/4474921735

08. Shedding light on photophobia

A slightly paradoxical title this one. Ponder on it just a little more! And then explore the excellent paper shedding light on a condition that is averse to light.

Photophobia (light sensitivity). Joana Roja on Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/cats_mom/2772386028/

07. No laughing matter: subacute degeneration of the spinal cord due to nitrous oxide inhalation

Nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, is now “the seventh most commonly used recreational drug”. But those who pop it do so oblivious of the risk of subacute combined degeneration. This damage to the upper spinal cord results from nitrous oxide-induced depletion of Vitamin B1 (thiamine). Not a laughing matter at all!

Empty Laughing Gas Canisters. Promo Cymru on Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/promocymru/18957223365

06. To scan or not to scan: DaT is the question

Dopamine transport (DaT) scan is a useful brain imaging tests that helps to support the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and other disorders which disrupt the dopamine pathways in the brain. It is particularly helpful in ruling out mimics of Parkinson’s disease such as essential tremor. When to request a DaT scan is however a tricky question in practice. This paper, with its Shakespearean twist, looks at the reliability of DaT scans.

Dopamine. John Lester on Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/pathfinderlinden/211882099

05. TauBI or not TauBI: what was the question?

It should be no surprise if Shakespeare rears his head more than once in this blog post. Not when the wordsmith is such a veritable source of inspiration for those struggling to invent catchy titles. This paper looks at taupathy, a neurodegeneration as tragic as Hamlet. It particularly comments on an unusual taupathy, one induced by traumatic brain injury. Curious.

By Lafayette Photo, London – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs divisionunder the digital ID cph.3g06529.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information., Public Domain, Link

04. Mind the Brain: Stroke Risk in Young Adults With Coarctation of the Aorta

What better way to call attention to a serious complication than a catchy title like this one. This paper highlights the neurological complications of coarctation of the aorta, a serious congenital cardiovascular disease. And the key concerns here are the risks of stroke and cerebral aneurysms. Cardiologists, mind the brain!

Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=803943

03. Diabetes and Parkinson disease: a sweet spot?

This paper reviews the unexpected biochemical links between diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. And this relationship is assuming a rather large dimension. Why, for example, are there so many insulin receptors in the power house of Parkinson’s disease, the substantia nigra? A sweet curiosity.

Insulin bubble. Sprogz on Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/sprogz/5606839532

02. PFO closure for secondary stroke prevention: is the discussion closed?

The foraman ovale is a physiological hole-in-the-heart which should close up once a baby is born. A patent foramen ovale (PFO) results when this hole refuses to shut up. PFOs enable leg clots to traverse the heart and cause strokes in the brain. This paper reviews the evidence that surgically closing PFOs prevents stroke. Common sense says it should, but science demands proof. And the authors assert that they have it all nicely tied up. Hmmm.

By Kjetil Lenes – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3705964

01. Closure of patent foramen ovale in “cryptogenic” stroke: Has the story come to an end?

Not to be beaten in the catchy title race is another brilliant PFO review article. Why do I feel the answer here is ‘no’? This is science after all.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/fliegender/293340835

 

A few more catchy neurology article titles to start the year

The Neurology Lounge is addicted to journal articles whose titles show that a lot of thought and attention went into constructing them. I have reviewed some of these in my previous blog posts titled The Art of Spinning Catchy Titles, and The Art of Spinning Catchy Neurology Headlines. To keep the tradition alive, here are a few more recent catchy titles.

Journal Entry. Joel Montes de Oca on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/joelmontes/4762384399

Stoop to conquer: preventing stroke and dementia together

This comes from an editorial in Lancet Neurology urging a joint approach to preventing stroke and dementia, a strategy the author calls ‘the lowest hanging fruit in the fight against these two greatest threats to the brain’. He argues that ‘at the moment, the fruit might be hanging too low for our gaze, and we are wrongly fixated on the distant future of Alzheimer’s disease treatment. We might have to stoop to conquer‘.

By Gavarni – Le voleur, n°95, 27 août 1858, page 265. Reproduction d’une gravure extraite des Toquades de Paul Gavarni, éditées par Gabriel de Gonet, Paris 1858., Public Domain, Link

Romberg’s test no longer stands up

This opinion piece in Practical Neurology takes a stab at the age-old neurological test of sensory impairment. Subject are asked to stand up and try to maintain their balance with their eyes shut. The author asserts that this, the Romberg’s test, ‘lacks essential specificity’, ‘risks physical injury’, and is ‘redundant’. He argues that there are much better, and safer, ways of testing for sensory ataxia. There goes an interesting test!

By Mikhail KonininFlickr: Meerkat / At the zoo / Novosibirsk / Siberia / 24.07.2012, CC BY 2.0, Link

Dacrystic seizures: a cry for help

This is from a case report of a 69-year old man in the journal Neurology. He presented with unusual crying spells which turned out to be dacrystic (crying) seizures. This case is eventually revealed to be a case of….sorry, no spoilers. Click on the link to find out.

HeartBroken-Tears are the Baptism of the Soul. Anil Kumar on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/87128018@N00/139136870

Game of TOR -the target of rapamycin rules four kingdoms

I am no fan of Game of Thrones, but it is an in-your-face television series which provides the setting for this catchy title. The mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway is underlies the pathology of tuberous sclerosis. It is therefore the target of many therapeutic strategies in the form of mTOR inhibitors. And the 4 kingdoms? You have to read the piece from the New England Journal of Medicine…perhaps after you have watched the TV series!

Stack. Wendy on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/wenzday01/4332780839

Restless legs syndrome: losing sleep over the placebo response

This editorial, also from Neurology, addresses the disturbing report in the same journal warning of the high placebo response of interventions for restless legs syndrome (RLS). The title couldn’t be more apt. 

By Edvard Munch – The Athenaeum: pic, Public Domain, Link

 


…and some not very catchy titles

Unfortunately many neurology titles are not as catchy as the ones above. Many article titles appear to be half-baked and fall short. Here are a few:

And the prize for the silliest title in neurology must go to this paper in the Journal of Neural Transmission that is simply…unreadable!

Do statins really increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease?

Statins are famous, and their fame lies in their ability to bust cholesterol, the villain in many medical disorders such as heart attack (myocardial infarction) and stroke. Some may add that statins are infamous, and this is partly because of their side effects such as muscle pain. Love them or hate them, we can’t get away from statins…even as the debate rages about their benefits and downsides.

By ChiltepinsterOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

It is not surprising therefore that the statin debate will filter into neurology. The sticking point here however has nothing to do with cholesterol busting, but all to do with whether statins increase or reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease (PD). Strange as it may seem, statins and PD have a long history. And a positive one generally, I hasten to add. There is a large body of evidence to suggest a protective effect of statins on PD as reflected in the following studies:

  1. Confounding of the association between statins and Parkinson disease: systematic review and meta-analysis 
  2. Statin therapy prevents the onset of Parkinson disease in patients with diabetes
  3. Statin use and risk of Parkinson’s disease: A meta-analysis 
  4. Statin use and its association with essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease
  5. Statin use and the risk of Parkinson’s disease: an updated meta-analysis
  6. Long-term statin use and the risk of Parkinson’s disease
  7. Discontinuation of statin therapy associated with Parkinson’s disease
Modeling the Molecular Basis of Parkinson’s Disease. Argonne National Laboratory on Flikr https://www.flickr.com/photos/argonne/4192798573

It was therefore with some consternation that a recent study, published in the journal Movement Disorders, really put the cat among the pigeons. The paper is titled:

Statins may facilitate Parkinson’s disease: insight gained from a large, national claims database,

The authors of this paper set out to investigate ‘the controversy surrounding the role of statins in Parkinson’s disease’. In this retrospective analysis of over 2,000 people with PD, and a similar number of control subjects, the authors found that statins significantly increased the risk of developing PD. This is clearly a conclusion looking for a fight!

By Col. Albert S. Evans – internet archives, Public Domain, Link

I must admit I was totally unaware there was any controversy about statins and PD. I was therefore curious to find out what studies are out there fuelling it. Which other trials have bucked the trend and reported an increased risk of PD from statins? And where best to find the answers but in PubMed, the repository of all human knowledge! And I found that there were only a few studies that did not report a protective effect of statins on PD, and these studies concluded, quite reasonably, that they found no relationship between PD and statins. Here are a few of the studies:

  1. Statin adherence and the risk of Parkinson’s disease: A population-based cohort study. 
  2. Use of statins and the risk of Parkinson’s disease: a retrospective case-control study in the UK. 
  3. Statin use and the risk of Parkinson disease: a nested case control study. 

These papers reporting the absence of evidence seem happy to engage in an amicable debate to resolve the question.

By DavidKF1949Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

One study however stood out like a sore thumb because it positively reported a negative effect of statins on PD (try and work that out!). This 2015 study, also published in Movement Disorders, is titled Statins, plasma cholesterol, and risk of Parkinson’s disease: a prospective study. The paper concludes that “statin use may be associated with a higher PD risk, whereas higher total cholesterol may be associated with lower risk“. Not only are the authors arguing that statins are bad for PD, they are also suggesting that cholesterol is good! This is a paper that was itching for fisticuffs.

By Jan SteenWeb Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain, Link

What is a jobbing neurologist to do? What are the millions of people on statins to do? Whilst awaiting further studies, I will say stay put. Go with the bulk of the evidence! And keep track of The Simvastatin Trial, funded by The Cure Parkinson’s Trust. This trial is looking at the benefit of statins in slowing down PD. And surely, very soon, the science will lead to a resolution of the argument-all you need to do is keep track of everything PD in Neurochecklists.

By Léon Augustin Lhermittehttp://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/fc/7f/643258ab30237374aaea5ac15757.jpgGallery: http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/L0006244.html, CC BY 4.0, Link

 

Primary angiitis of the CNS: unusual presentations of a rare and dangerous disorder

Primary angiitis of the central nervous system (PACNS) is inflammation of the blood vessels of the central nervous system (stating the obvious you might say). It differs from other forms of angiitis or vasculitis, such as lupus and giant cell arteritis (GCA), which respect no boundaries. PACNS is as dangerous a neurological disorder as they come, and just as rare. It requires aggressive, and paradoxically equally life-threatening, immunosuppressive treatment. Between the devil and deep blue sea-that’s exactly where the neurologist managing a patient with PACNS will be found.

BRAINADE! the Brain Grenade. Emilio Garcia on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/lapolab/11929014084
BRAINADE! the Brain Grenade. Emilio Garcia on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/lapolab/11929014084

The clinical features of PACNS are unfortunately very non-specific and include headaches, seizures, stroke, and cognitive changes. This makes PACNS is a challenge to diagnose. Even when suspected, PACNS may evade detection even by the special scan of the blood vessels called angiography. More frequently, the only certain way of confirming this disease in life is with a brain biopsy. Did I say ‘certain’? I take that back. Alas, even brain biopsy is not guaranteed to make the diagnosis of PACNS. A high degree of confidence and teeth-gritting is therefore an absolute requirement in any neurologist unfortunate enough to come face-to-face with this menace.

By The original uploader was Glitzy queen00 at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
By The original uploader was Glitzy queen00 at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

To make complicated matters even worse for the unwary neurologist, there are now reports suggesting that PACNS presents in even rarer and atypical ways. For the neurological Sherlocks and Poirots, here are 2 unusual presentations of PACNS.

Isolated spinal cord involvement

Spinal Cord 2. Green Flames 09 on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/greenflames09/116396742
Spinal Cord 2. Green Flames 09 on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/greenflames09/116396742

This is a case report from the Journal of Neurology of a 44-year old woman who presented with PACNS but with purely spinal cord involvement and completely sparing the brain. The diagnosis in this case was only confirmed with a spinal cord biopsy. The authors reviewed the literature and only found 8 previous reports of PACNS beginning in the spinal cord, and half of these progressed to involve the brain. 

Unilateral cerebral presentation

Keep Left. Howard Lake on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/howardlake/4440588147
Keep Left. Howard Lake on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/howardlake/4440588147

Most cases of PACNS evenly involve both sides of the brain. This report, again from Journal of Neurology, bucks this trend with the report of a 55-year old man who had PACNS which only involved the left side of his brain. This unilateral hemispheric PACNS is a reminder that an entity called focal PACNS exists.

https://pixabay.com/en/light-bulb-brain-absorbed-light-1599359/
https://pixabay.com/en/light-bulb-brain-absorbed-light-1599359/

Do you have any sightings of unusual cases of PACNS? Please drop a comment

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7 ominous signs that suggest you need to see a neurologist

Neurologists spend most of their time diagnosing benign conditions which are curable or treatable, or at least people learn to live with. Every now and then we see people with startling symptoms such as coma, convulsions, neck stiffness, or paralysis. These are obviously concerning to patients and their families who have a foreboding of diseases such as meningitis, epilepsy, and stroke. Serious as these disorders are, they at least announce themselves and show their hands. Many other neurological symptoms unfortunately give no hint of the serious diseases that follow in their trail. That is when things get a bit tricky.

Ominous. Ankakay on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/ankakay/4101391453
Ominous. Ankakay on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/ankakay/4101391453

What are these seemingly benign symptoms which jolt neurologists out of their blissful complacency? What are these red flag symptoms that pretend they are grey? Here are my 7 deceptively ominous neurological signs everyone should know about.

7. A numb chin

By Henry Vandyke Carter - Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body (See "Book" section below)Bartleby.com: Gray's Anatomy, Plate 784, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=531758
By Henry Vandyke CarterHenry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body (See “Book” section below)Bartleby.com: Gray’s Anatomy, Plate 784, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=531758

This must be the most deceptive sinister symptom in neurology. Not many people will rush to their doctors to complain about a numb chin, but it is a symptom that makes neurologists very nervous. This is because the chin gets its sensory supply from the mandibular branch of the fifth cranial nerve, also called the trigeminal nerve because it has three branches. And neurologists know that, for some bizarre reason, cancers from other parts of the body occasionally send deposits to this nerve. The numb chin syndrome is therefore not to be treated lightly.

6. Muscle twitching

OK, don’t panic yet. We have all experienced this; a flickering of an overused and tired muscle; a twitching of the odd finger; the quivering of the calf muscles in older people. Neurologists call these fasciculations, and they are only a concern if they are persistent, progressive, and widespread. And also usually only if the affected muscles are weak. In such cases neurologists worry that fasciculations are the harbingers of sinister diseases, particularly motor neurone disease (MND), better known in America as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig disease. Many people with muscle twitching will however have nothing seriously wrong with them, and many will be shooed out of the consulting room with the label of benign fasciculations syndrome (we love our syndromes, especially when they are benign). There are many other causes of fasciculations, but MND is clearly the most sinister of them all.

5. Transient visual loss

Scott Maxwell on freestockphotos. http://www.freestockphotos.biz/stockphoto/9747
Scott Maxwell on freestockphotos. http://www.freestockphotos.biz/stockphoto/9747

Neurologists often ask people with headache if their vision blurs or disappears for brief periods of time. These visual obscurations are not as dramatic as the visual loss that accompanies minor strokes or transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs). Visual obscurations affect both eyes and last only a few seconds. They are the result of sudden but brief increases in an already elevated pressure in the head. This may occur with relatively benign conditions such as idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH), but it may also portend a serious disorder such as a brain tumour.

4. Sudden loss of bowel or bladder control

bubble-1013915_1920

Loss of control down there would surely concern many people, but often not with the urgency it deserves. There are many non-neurological causes of bowel or bladder incontinence, but a sudden onset suggests that it is arising from the nervous system. The worrying diagnoses here are spinal cord compression and spinal cord inflammation (transverse myelitis). These disorders are often associated with other symptoms such as leg stiffness and weakness, but I really wouldn’t wait until these set in before I ask to see a neurologist.

3. Saddle anaesthesia

bicycle-saddle-791704_1920

Whilst we are on the topic of things down there, a related sinister symptom is loss of sensation around the genitals and buttocks, something your doctor will prudently call saddle anaesthesia. This arises when the nerves coming off the lower end of the spinal cord, collectively called the cauda equina, are compressed. The unpalatable condition, cauda equina syndrome (CES), worries neurologists because the compression may be due to a tumour in the spinal canal.

PS: The bicycle saddle is an apt analogy, but if you prefer horse riding, below is an alternative image to soothe your hurt feelings.

 

By BLW - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1956552
By BLW – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1956552

2. A painful droopy eyelid

A droopy eyelid is a deceptively benign symptom which worries neurologists. This symptom, which neurologist prefer to call ptosis, is particularly concerning if it is accompanied by double vision. One worrying disorder which causes ptosis is myasthenia gravis (MG), and this presents with ptosis on both sides. More sinister is ptosis which is present only on one side, particularly if it is painful. This may be caused by brain aneurysms, especially those arising from a weakness of the posterior communicating artery (PCOM) artery. As the aneurysm grows, it presses on the third cranial or oculomotor nerve, one of three nerves that controls the eyeballs and keeps the eyelids open. An aneurysm is literally a time-bomb in the brain as they wield the threat of bursting and causing a catastrophic bleeding around the brain. This makes ptosis an ominous, but also a helpful, neurological symptom.

By Cumulus z niderlandzkiej Wikipedii, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3167579
By Cumulus z niderlandzkiej Wikipedii, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3167579

There are many other causes of ptosis including Horner’s syndrome, so don’t panic yet but get that eyelid checked out if it refuses to straighten out.

 

1. Thunderclap headache

By © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24189896
By © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24189896

thunderclap headache is a symptom that means exactly what it says on the label! Neurologists will ask if the onset felt as if one was hit by a cricket bat. Even though most people have never been so assaulted, almost everyone with thunderclap headache readily agree this is what it feels like. It is such a distressing symptom that it doesn’t strike the afflicted person (pun intended) that their doctors are more concerned about investigating them, then they are in curing their headache. They patient is rushed to the CT scanner, and then subjected to a lumbar puncture. The doctors then heave a huge sigh of relief when the spinal fluid shows no blood or blood products, reassured that the patient has not suffered a subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH) from a ruptured a brain aneurysm. The patient, who now has just another headache, is left to get to grips with their now, suddenly, very uninteresting symptom. There are many other causes of a thunderclap headache, but a ruptured aneurysm is the most sinister. If you develop a thunderclap headache, don’t wait to see a neurologist…just get to the nearest hospital!

PS: Don’t feel aggrieved if you are across the Pacific; it is also a thunderclap headache if it felt like being hit by a baseball bat!

Baseball bat in sun. Peter Chen on Flikr https://www.flickr.com/photos/34858596@N02/3239696542
Baseball bat in sun. Peter Chen on Flikr https://www.flickr.com/photos/34858596@N02/3239696542

 

Want to check out more ominous signs? Check out Smart handles and red flags in neurological diagnosis by the neurologist Chris Hawkes in Hospital Medicine.

 

What are the most iconic neurological disorders?

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.

 

1. Alzheimer’s disease

By uncredited - Images from the History of Medicine (NLM) [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11648572
By uncredited – Images from the History of Medicine (NLM) [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11648572

2. Behcet’s disease

By Republic2011 - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17715921
By Republic2011Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17715921

3. Bell’s palsy

By http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/69/f2/8d6c4130f4264b4b906960cf1f7e.jpgGallery: http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/M0011440.html, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36350600
By http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/69/f2/8d6c4130f4264b4b906960cf1f7e.jpgGallery: http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/M0011440.html, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36350600

4. Brachial neuritis

5. Brain tumours

6. Carpal tunnel syndrome

7. Cerebral palsy (CP)

8. Cervical dystonia

9. Charcot Marie Tooth disease (CMT)

By http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/66/09/4dfa424fe11bb8dc56b2058f04ba.jpgGallery: http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/V0026141.html, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36578490
By http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/66/09/4dfa424fe11bb8dc56b2058f04ba.jpgGallery: http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/V0026141.html, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36578490

10. Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP)

11. Cluster headache

12. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD)

By Unknown - http://www.sammlungen.hu-berlin.de/dokumente/11727/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4008658
By Unknownhttp://www.sammlungen.hu-berlin.de/dokumente/11727/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4008658

13. Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD)

By G._Duchenne.jpg: unknown/anonymousderivative work: PawełMM (talk) - G._Duchenne.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9701531
By G._Duchenne.jpg: unknown/anonymousderivative work: PawełMM (talk) – G._Duchenne.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9701531

14. Encephalitis

15. Epilepsy

16. Essential tremor

17. Friedreich’s ataxia

By Unknown - http://www.uic.edu/depts/mcne/founders/page0035.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3960759
By Unknownhttp://www.uic.edu/depts/mcne/founders/page0035.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3960759

18. Frontotemporal dementia (FTD)

19. Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS)

By Anonymous - Ouvrage : L'informateur des aliénistes et des neurologistes, Paris : Delarue, 1923, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28242077
By Anonymous – Ouvrage : L’informateur des aliénistes et des neurologistes, Paris : Delarue, 1923, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28242077

20. Hashimoto encephalopathy

21. Hemifacial spasm

22. Horner’s syndrome

By Unknown - http://ihm.nlm.nih.gov/images/B15207, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19265414
By Unknownhttp://ihm.nlm.nih.gov/images/B15207, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19265414

23. Huntington’s disease (HD)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Huntington#/media/File:George_Huntington.jpg
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Huntington#/media/File:George_Huntington.jpg

24. Idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH)

25. Inclusion body myositis (IBM)

26. Kennedy disease

27. Korsakoff’s psychosis

28. Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome (LEMS)

29. Leber’s optic neuropathy (LHON)

30. McArdles disease

31. Meningitis

32. Migraine

33. Miller-Fisher syndrome (MFS)

By J3D3 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34315507
By J3D3Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34315507

34. Motor neurone disease (MND)

35. Multiple sclerosis (MS)

36. Multiple system atrophy (MSA)

37. Myasthenia gravis (MG)

38. Myotonic dystrophy

39. Narcolepsy

40. Neurofibromatosis (NF)

41. Neuromyelitis optica (NMO)

42. Neurosarcoidosis

43. Neurosyphilis

44. Parkinson’s disease (PD)

45. Peripheral neuropathy (PN)

46. Peroneal neuropathy

47. Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP)

48. Rabies

49. Restless legs syndrome (RLS)

50. Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA)

51. Stiff person syndrome (SPS)

52. Stroke

53. Subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH)

54. Tension-type headache (TTH)

55. Tetanus

56. Transient global amnesia (TGA)

57. Trigeminal neuralgia

58. Tuberous sclerosis

59. Wernicke’s encephalopathy

By J.F. Lehmann, Muenchen - IHM, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9679254
By J.F. Lehmann, Muenchen – IHM, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9679254

60. Wilson’s disease

By Carl Vandyk (1851–1931) - [No authors listed] (July 1937). "S. A. Kinnier Wilson". Br J Ophthalmol 21 (7): 396–97. PMC: 1142821., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11384670
By Carl Vandyk (1851–1931) – [No authors listed] (July 1937). “S. A. Kinnier Wilson“. Br J Ophthalmol 21 (7): 396–97. PMC: 1142821., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11384670

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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.