What is the second most common neurological disorder?

Neurological disorders are diseases that affect the brain and nervous system. They can cause everything from mild numbness to severe paralysis and death. Some of the most common neurological disorders include migraine, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, and more. But what is the second most common neurological disorder after migraine headaches?

Migraine is the Most Common Neurological Disorder

Migraine headaches are by far the most prevalent neurological disorder. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, over 37 million Americans suffer from migraine. This chronic condition causes moderate to severe headaches that can last for hours or even days. Migraine is three times more common in women than men. Attacks are often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.

Stroke is the Second Most Common Neurological Disorder

After migraine, stroke is the second most common neurological disorder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that nearly 800,000 people in the United States have a stroke each year. A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is blocked or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts.

There are two major types of stroke:

  • Ischemic stroke – A blood clot blocks an artery leading to the brain
  • Hemorrhagic stroke – A blood vessel bursts and bleeds into the brain

A stroke is a medical emergency. It can cause permanent damage to the brain, such as paralysis, speech difficulties, vision problems, and more. In fact, stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability in the United States.

Risk Factors for Stroke

Many factors can increase your risk of having a stroke, including:

  • High blood pressure – The most significant risk factor for stroke
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Excessive alcohol intake

You can reduce your risk by controlling high blood pressure, not smoking, eating healthy, exercising, and limiting alcohol. But some risk factors like age, gender, ethnicity, and family history cannot be changed.

Stroke Warning Signs

It is crucial to recognize the signs of stroke right away and seek emergency care. The CDC identifies these major warning signs using the acronym FAST:

  • Face drooping
  • Arm weakness
  • Speech difficulty
  • Time to call 911

Other possible signs include sudden confusion, trouble walking or seeing, and severe headache.

Stroke Treatment

Treatment for stroke must be given very quickly to save brain tissue and function. The main treatments are:

  • tPA (clot-busting drug) – Given through IV to dissolve blood clots if the stroke is ischemic
  • Endovascular procedures – Use devices inserted through arteries to physically remove clots
  • Surgery – Required for some hemorrhagic strokes

Rehabilitation with speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy is crucial after stroke to regain abilities.

Stroke Statistics

Here are some key statistics on stroke in the United States from the CDC and American Stroke Association:

  • Each year, 795,000 people have a stroke
  • 140,000 deaths annually are attributed to stroke, making it the 5th leading cause of death
  • 87% of strokes are ischemic strokes
  • Stroke costs the United States $46 billion each year in health care services, medications, and lost productivity

Multiple Sclerosis is the Third Most Common Neurological Disorder

After migraine and stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS) is the third most prevalent neurological disorder. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society estimates nearly 1 million people are living with MS in the United States. MS affects 2-3 times as many women as men.

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. With MS, the immune system wrongly attacks the protective myelin sheath that covers nerve fibers. Damage to myelin causes communication problems between the brain and body. Eventually, the disease can destroy the nerves themselves.

MS Symptoms

Some common symptoms of multiple sclerosis include:

  • Numbness and tingling
  • Weakness
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Vision problems
  • Dizziness
  • Bladder dysfunction
  • Cognitive changes

Symptoms vary significantly from person to person and flare-up unpredictably. People with MS may end up losing the ability to walk independently.

MS Causes and Risk Factors

The underlying cause of MS is unknown, but likely involves genetics and environmental factors. Having a first-degree relative with MS increases your risk. MS is more common at farther distances from the equator. Smokers and obese adolescents are also at increased risk.

MS Diagnosis and Treatment

There is no single test for MS. A diagnosis typically involves:

  • Medical history
  • Physical exam
  • MRI scans
  • Spinal fluid analysis

While there is no cure for multiple sclerosis yet, various drugs and therapies can slow disease progression and manage symptoms. Treatment often includes corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.

Alzheimer’s Disease is the Fourth Most Common Neurological Disorder

The fourth most common neurological disorder is Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, over 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s dementia in 2022. This number is estimated to rise to nearly 13 million by 2050 as the population ages.

Alzheimer’s Disease Definition

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, irreversible brain disorder. It involves the degeneration of brain cells that leads to the loss of cognitive functions. These include memory, thinking, behavior, and the ability to perform daily activities.

Alzheimer’s Symptoms

Early signs of Alzheimer’s dementia include:

  • Memory loss impacting daily life
  • Trouble planning or problem solving
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  • Confusion about time and place
  • Vision problems
  • Difficulty with speech and writing
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  • Poor judgment
  • Withdrawal from work and social activities

In later stages, people lose the ability to communicate, fail to recognize loved ones, and become completely dependent on others for care.

Alzheimer’s Causes and Risk Factors

Experts don’t yet fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s disease. However, some known risk factors include:

  • Older age
  • Family history
  • Genetics like Down Syndrome
  • Serious head injury
  • Heart health risks like obesity, smoking, and diabetes

Alzheimer’s Diagnosis and Treatment

There is no single diagnostic test that can definitively diagnose Alzheimer’s. A doctor makes a diagnosis based on a person’s medical history, cognitive testing, physical exam, and brain imaging. Treatments can temporarily manage symptoms but cannot cure or reverse the disease itself. Maintaining overall health and an active social life appear key for delaying symptoms.

Parkinson’s Disease is the Fifth Most Common Neurological Disorder

Parkinson’s disease ranks as the 5th most common neurological disorder in the United States. The Parkinson’s Foundation estimates that over 1 million Americans live with Parkinson’s disease. Of these, about 60,000 are diagnosed each year. Men are one and a half times more likely to have Parkinson’s than women.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement and balance. It arises from the loss of nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine. The exact cause remains unknown. The hallmark symptoms of Parkinson’s are tremors, rigidity, and slowed movement (bradykinesia).

Parkinson’s Symptoms

In addition to tremors, rigidity, and bradykinesia, other symptoms include:

  • Impaired balance
  • Stooped posture
  • Shuffling walk
  • Speech changes
  • Writing changes

Non-motor symptoms like depression, constipation, and sleep disturbances often appear before movement problems.

Parkinson’s Causes and Risk Factors

Researchers believe Parkinson’s arises from a complex interaction of genetic and environmental factors. Exposure to pesticides and trauma may increase risk. The biggest risk factor by far is age – most people with Parkinson’s first develop symptoms after age 60.

Parkinson’s Treatment

While there is no cure, medications like levodopa can help manage motor symptoms. Exercise and physical therapy improve mobility. Deep brain stimulation surgery helps some people. Treatment focuses on improving quality of life.

Epilepsy – Prevalence Varies by Type

The prevalence of epilepsy, a central nervous system disorder that causes seizures, varies significantly based on type. Epilepsy itself is not a single disease. The CDC estimates around 3 million U.S. adults have active epilepsy. Prevalence peaks in children and older adults.

Types of Epileptic Seizures

There are many different types of epileptic seizures. Some main categories include:

  • Focal (partial) seizures – Originate in just one area of the brain
  • Generalized seizures – Involve the entire brain immediately
  • Unknown onset seizures – Type of onset is unclear

Seizures are classified as either convulsive or nonconvulsive. The most common specific seizure types are:

  • Simple focal seizures
  • Complex focal seizures
  • Absence seizures (petit mal)
  • Tonic-clonic seizures (grand mal)

Epilepsy Causes

Anything that disrupts normal neuron activity in the brain can cause seizures. Common causes include:

  • Stroke
  • Head trauma
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Brain tumor
  • Genetic syndromes
  • Infections like meningitis
  • Metabolic disturbances

For about half of those with epilepsy, a cause cannot be identified.

Epilepsy Treatment

Epilepsy requires long-term management. Many seizures respond well to anticonvulsant medications. Surgery may be an option for some patients. Devices like vagus nerve stimulators may help reduce seizures.


In summary, migraine is by far the most common neurological disorder, affecting around 37 million Americans. Stroke is the second most prevalent, afflicting 795,000 people annually. Multiple sclerosis ranks third, impacting nearly 1 million people in the U.S. Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s complete the top five, affecting millions more.

While prevalence varies widely, other major neurological disorders include epilepsy, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injuries, muscular dystrophy, and more. As the population ages, neurological diseases are becoming an increasing public health concern.

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