• Question: How may diseases can effect your brain?

    Asked by peter296 to Simon on 28 Apr 2020.
    • Photo: Simon Spichak

      Simon Spichak answered on 28 Apr 2020:

      Hi Peter – since there are so many diseases and disorders that can affect the brain, I will split them up into some different categories.

      Neurodevelopmental diseases and disorders: These disorders arise when we are young and our brain is just starting to grow. Some very common disorders include Autism-Spectrum Disorder and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Autism happens to affect more boys than girls, and leads to some obsessive behaviors, language disturbances and difficulties with social interactions. ADHD can make it hard to to focus or learn. Basically this stage of brain development is very important because it sets the stage for the rest of our lives and though we may not fully understand the causes just yet, we know that lots of environmental and genetic components, contribute to these disorders.

      Mood disorders: Simply put, this next category affects our moods. This includes anxiety, depression and many others! Anxiety is a response to potential stressors where we imagine what might happen. Anxiety was very useful for our ancestors, and kept them on edge and avoiding predators. However, sometimes we might have dysregulation is how we experience this feeling and something goes haywire and can disrupt somebody’s day to day life. Depression involves a sudden loss of motivation, sadness, sleep problems, amongst other symptoms. While we have some effective treatments for these disorders, we don’t fully understand what causes them. It’s very important to understand this because anxiety and depression affect anywhere from 5-10% of the population!

      Neurodegenerative disorders: This is another class of mysterious disorders where something goes wrong in our brains, and lots of proteins called plaques begin to clog up our brain cells. This causes different parts of our brain to die, and affects our ability to think or do everyday activities.

      Genetic disorders: Some disorders can be caused by one gene and are either passed down from the parents, or can happen because there was a mistake made when some genetic material was being copied. These often have their own specific set of symptoms, and are unique amongst brain disorders because we actually understand why they occur.

      There’s a bunch of other disorders – for example epilepsy is a disorder where the firing of electrical signals in the brain is dysregulated, and can temporarily affect somebody’s day to day function by causing a seizure. These can involve visible shaking or even just confusion. Other diseases involve the immune system accidentally attacking the body’s own cells, which can then affect how the signals from our brain travel to the rest of our body!