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Glossary

Adapted with permission from the Brain and Spine Foundation website

  • Absence seizure

A type of fit seen in epilepsy which is particularly common in children and which takes the form of brief spells of impaired awareness.

  • Acute attack

A sudden flare-up in symptoms.

  • Antibiotic

A substance that destroys or inhibits the growth of microbes/microorganisms.

  • Anti-convulsant

A drug that prevents or reduces the severity of fits/seizures.

  • Autoimmune

The immune system recognises and then gets rid of infections using cells called lymphocytes and proteins called antibodies. Usually the immune system can tell the difference between normal body proteins (“self”) and those of bacteria or viruses (“foreign”). Occasionally “self” proteins are recognised as “foreign” and inflammation develops. This is called an autoimmune reaction. There are a number of autoimmune diseases e.g. some forms of diabetes or thyroid disease. These are not linked to transverse myelitis.

  • Axons

The long cytoplasmic extensions of nerve cells (neurons) that conduct the electrical impulses or messages in both the central and in the peripheral nervous systems. They can be several feet in length.

  • Biopsy

Removal of a small piece of living tissue from a part of the body for microscopic examination.

  • Brainstem

A stalk of nerve cells and fibres that links the lowest part of the brain to the spinal cord.

  • Basal ganglia

A group of structures and nuclei in the brain which help control movement.

  • Central nervous system (CNS)

The central nervous system is made up of the brain and spinal cord. The central nervous system works together with the peripheral nervous system, which consists of all the nerves that carry signals between the CNS and the rest of the body.

  • Cerebellum

The part of the brain which controls balance Chronic Long-term or persisting.

  • Cerebellar ataxia

The cerebellum is part of the back of the brain. It particularly deals with the co-ordination of actions and balance. People who have disease of the cerebellum, which is affected in CJD, become clumsy, shaky (tremulous) in their limbs and develop slurred speech and poor balance. This is termed ‘cerebellar ataxia’.

  • Cerebral

To do with the brain.

  • Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF)

The clear watery fluid that surrounds and protects the brain and spinal cord.

  • Clinical

Exchanges between a doctor and patient - history taking, examination and some aspects of treatment - constitute clinical activity.

  • Clinical psychologist

A specialist who uses the science dealing with the brain and mental processes to assess and treat patients.

  • Clinical neurophysiologist

A doctor specialising in clinical neurophysiology.

  • Coma

Patients are said to be in a coma if they are unable to obey simple commands, do not utter comprehensible words and do not open their eyes even in response to pain.

  • CSF

CSF (cerebro-spinal fluid) is a clear fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord in the skull and spinal column.The body continually renews this fluid by producing and then absorbing it. Among other functions, it helps to support and cushion the brain and spinal cord. The analysis of CSF can be very helpful when diagnosing various neurological diseases including meningitis, encephalitis and CJD.

  • CT scan

A computer-aided x-ray used to provide a clear picture of a part of the body, for example the brain, inside of the skull and the ear.

  • CT/MRI contrast

A dye injected into the veins to improve MRI and CT scan pictures.

  • Demyelination

Loss of the protective “insulating” myelin sheath that covers nerve fibres.

  • Differential diagnosis

The term used by doctors to refer to the various possible causes of a patient’s symptoms.

  • EEG

The EEG (electroencephalogram) is a recording of the natural electrical activity of the brain. It involves placing small recording electrodes on the scalp and is completely painless and harmless. The analysis of the EEG can be very helpful in diagnosing various neurological diseases including epilepsy and CJD.

  • Encephalitis

Inflammation of the brain, usually caused by a viral infection.

  • Encephalopathy

Any disease or disorder affecting the brain.

  • Epidemic

This term is used for a disease that for most of the time is rare in the community, but that suddenly spreads to large numbers of people.

  • Epilepsy

Disorder of brain function usually characterised by recurrent attacks of unconsciousness (fits or seizures).

  • Epileptic fit (seizure)

A sudden and short-lived electrical disturbance in the brain which often, but by no means always, causes abnormal shaking movements and a brief loss of consciousness.

  • Fatigue

Incapacitating mental or physical tiredness.

  • Generalised convulsion or seizure

This type of seizure, which arises over a wide area of the brain, causes loss of
consciousness and affects the whole body.

  • Hemiparesis

This is muscular weakness or partial paralysis on one side of the body.

  • Hemiplegia

This is a paralysis or weakness on one side of the body caused by damage to the motor nerve tracts in the opposite side of the brain.

  • Hydrocephalus

An abnormal increase in the amount of cerebro-spinal fluid within the cavities of the brain.

  • Inflammation

A process in which part of the body can become hot and swollen, not necessarily directly due to an infection.

  • Keyworker

A health or other professional who is responsible for coordinating the treatment and care of those who are ill.

  • Level of consciousness

The level of consciousness of a person can vary between being fully conscious and being in a deep coma, and there are many levels between these two extremes. Medical staff will assess a person’s level of consciousness by checking for certain responses, which include eye opening, verbal response and response to stimulation.

  • Lumbar

The name given to the lowest mobile portion of the spine, sometimes referred to as the small of the back.

  • Lumbar puncture

A medical test, involving taking a small sample of fluid from the lower spine using a needle, a bit like a blood test. This is usually done with some local anaesthetic when the person is lying on their side on a bed or couch.There are no serious side effects, although some people may get a headache afterwards.

  • Meninges

The three connective tissue membranes that line the skull and vertebral canal and enclose the brain and spinal cord.

  • Meningitis

An inflammation of the membranes covering the brain (the meninges) due to infection by a virus or bacterium.

  • MRI scan

Magnetic Resonance Imaging is a technique that gives very clear pictures of an area of the body (e.g. the ear) in any plane. The pictures obtained are of very high quality and use magnetism rather than x-rays. The scan process is painless but somewhat claustrophobic, and can be noisy.

  • MRI/CT contrast

A dye injected into the veins to improve MRI and CT scan pictures.

  • Myelin

The fatty protein coat around nerve fibres. Myelin sheaths increase the speed at which electrical impulses or messages travel.

  • Nerve cell

The basic functional unit of the nervous system. These specialised cells transmit chemicals and electrical impulses and so carry information from one part of the body to another.

  • Nerve fibre

A long thread that extends from a nerve cell and carries nerve impulses. Bundles of nerve fibres running together form a nerve.

  • Neurological

Refers to conditions occurring in the nervous system, including the brain, spine and all the peripheral nerves.

  • Neurologist

A medical doctor who is specially trained to diagnose disorders of the brain, spinal cord and nerves, and to treat them with drugs if appropriate.

  • Neuron

Another term for a nerve cell. They are the key cells in the central nervous system that produce and carry the electrical impulses or messages that translate our thoughts into actions. Their long projections or extensions are called axons.

  • Neuro-transmitter

A chemical messenger used by the nerve cells.

  • Nervous system

The vast network of nerve cells which carries information to and from all parts of the body in order to bring about bodily activity. It is classically divided into the brain, spine and peripheral nervous system.

  • Occupational therapy

Occupational therapists help people regain their independence and adapt to any disability. They can recommend special tools to help people perform everyday tasks more easily and can also recommend adaptations to the house, such as hand rails, bath seats and stair lifts.

  • Optic neuritis

Inflammation in the nerve which joins the eye to the brain (the optic nerve).

  • Occupational therapist

A specialist in providing treatment that uses specific activities to help people
whose physical, and particularly movement, capabilities have been damaged to recover the skills they need to help them lead as independent a life as possible.

  • Paediatrician

A doctor who specialises in children’s medicine.

  • Physiotherapy

Maximising movement ability and controlling pain in the joints, muscles and bones.

  • Psychiatry

A branch of medicine concerned with mental illnesses.

  • Positron Emission Tomography scan.

This is a scan that provides three-dimensional pictures that can show the chemical activity of the tissues being examined.

  • Psychologist

Someone involved in the scientific study of the mind and mental processes.

  • Rehabilitation

This refers to the overall process of ensuring that people make the best possible recovery from their stroke. It usually involves help from nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and where appropriate speech and language therapists.

  • Scan

The examination of the body or part of the body using CT or MRI.

  • Speech therapy

The rehabilitation of patients who are unable to speak clearly.

  • Symptoms

The sensations or feelings reported by patients which tell them that something is wrong - as opposed to signs, which are things the doctor observes. Dizziness is a symptom.

  • Spinal cord

The main nerve trunk of the body that runs from the brain downwards towards the lower part of the back inside a tunnel of bones in the backbone called the vertebral column.

  • Steroids

A group of hormones occurring naturally in the body and medications based on them.

  • Symptomatic

A patient is symptomatic if he or she experiences symptoms. A condition becomes symptomatic when it starts to produce symptoms, even though the condition itself may have been present for some time beforehand.

  • Speech therapist

A specialist in helping people with speech, language, communication and swallowing difficulties.

  • Sporadic

Isolated, infrequent or unconnected cases of a condition.

  • Tracheostomy

The creation of an opening in the trachea (windpipe) through the neck for the insertion of a tube to assist breathing.

  • Ventilator

A machine designed to move air in and out of a person’s lungs to assist breathing mechanically (a life support machine).