Overview of Nervous System Disorders in Children

What is the nervous system?

The nervous system is a complex, sophisticated system that regulates and coordinates body activities. It's made up of two major divisions:

  • Central nervous system. This consists of the brain and spinal cord.

  • Peripheral nervous system. This consists of all other neural elements.

In addition to the brain and spinal cord, main organs of the nervous system include:

  • Eyes

  • Ears

  • Sensory organs of taste

  • Sensory organs of smell

  • Sensory receptors located in the skin, joints, muscles, and other parts of the body

What can damage the nervous system?

The nervous system is vulnerable to various disorders and can be damaged by:

  • Injury

  • Infections

  • Degeneration

  • Structural defects

  • Tumors

  • Blood flow disruption

  • Immune system disorders

  • Inborn genetic or metabolic problems

  • Toxic exposures or direct effects of drug exposures

What are the symptoms of nervous system disorders?

The following are the most common symptoms of nervous system disorders. But each child may have slightly different symptoms. Different disorders will cause different symptoms to happen. Symptoms may include:

  • Delays in physical or mental developmental milestones

  • Increase or lack of growth in head size

  • Changes in activity, reflexes, or movements

  • Lack of coordination

  • Changes in level of consciousness or mood

  • Muscle rigidity, tremors, or seizures

  • Muscle wasting and slurred speech

  • Older children may also report persistent or severe headaches, loss of feeling or tingling, or visual changes

The symptoms of a nervous system disorder may look like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees their healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Healthcare providers who treat nervous system disorders

The best way to manage nervous system disorders is with the help of a team of healthcare professionals. You may not need all members of the team at any given time but it's good to know who they are and how they can help. Here is a list of some of the healthcare providers who may be involved in treating nervous system disorders:

  • Neurologist. The medical healthcare providers who diagnose and treat nervous system disorders are called neurologists.

  • Neurosurgeon. Surgeons who operate as a treatment team for nervous system disorders are called neurological surgeons or neurosurgeons.

  • Neuroradiologist and interventional radiologist. These are radiologists who specialize in diagnosing nervous system conditions using imaging and in treating nervous system conditions, such as cerebral aneurysms, acute strokes, and vertebral fractures. These providers also do biopsies of certain tumors.

  • Developmental pediatrician. This is a pediatrician who is specifically trained in the physical, emotional, behavioral, and social development of children.

  • Psychologist. Emotional problems, such as anxiety, depression, mood swings, and irritability, are common in nervous system disorders. Your child's psychologist can help. Psychologists may do testing to find out how much your child's disorder is affecting the way they think and feel. Psychologists also do talk therapy (counseling) to help your child deal with the emotional effects caused by nervous system disorders.

  • Psychiatrist. Like your child's psychologist, this team member deals with emotional and behavior symptoms caused by nervous system disorders. In most cases, talk therapy works best for these problems. But if your child needs medicines to treat symptoms, such as depression or anxiety, this healthcare provider can help.

  • Physiatrist. Healthcare providers who work with children in the rehab (rehabilitation) process are called physiatrists.

  • Physical therapist. This is a movement specialist who can help your child move and walk well. In physical therapy, your child can also work on painful or stiff muscles and joints.

  • Occupational therapist. This provider helps your child learn to handle day-to-day activities. For example, your child might have trouble doing tasks they need to do at school or at home. Your child's occupational therapist will help them find ways to adjust to any changes in their physical abilities.

  • Speech/language pathologist. This provider specializes in communication, including cognitive communication. They also diagnose and treat swallowing problems.

  • Social worker. This is someone who can help you navigate the healthcare system and find resources you need.

Online Medical Reviewer: Anne Fetterman RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Joseph Campellone MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2023
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