What causes neurological symptoms?

The causes of neurological symptoms are as diverse as the nervous system itself. A common origin for neurological symptoms is the peripheral nervous system, which transmits sensory signals from the rest of the body to the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).

Neurological symptoms can arise from one nerve or many. Some syndromes, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, occur when the nerve is compressed and deprived of proper blood flow. Diabetes is a common cause of neuropathies (nerve disorders), the result of nerve damage from high blood sugar. Neurological symptoms can also stem from autoimmune diseases, such as lupus or Guillain-Barré syndrome, or from infection with viruses such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or Epstein-Barr virus.

Traumatic causes of neurological symptoms

Neurological symptoms may be caused by trauma or injury such as:

  • Burns
  • Compression, crushing or severing of nerves
  • Detachment of nerves from the spinal cord
  • Electrical injury
  • Fracture or dislocation of a bone
  • Gunshot injury
  • Physical assault
  • Slipped vertebral disks or other spine conditions

Infectious or autoimmune causes of neurological symptoms

Neurological symptoms can also be caused by infections or autoimmune diseases including:

  • Epstein-Barr virus infection
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome (autoimmune nerve disorder)
  • Hepatitis C
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection
  • Lyme disease (inflammatory bacterial disease spread by ticks)
  • Other bacterial and viral infections of the brain or meninges (membranes lining the brain and spinal cord)
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)
  • Varicella-zoster virus infection (virus that causes chickenpox and shingles)

Systemic causes of neurological symptoms

Neurological symptoms can also be caused by systemic diseases or disorders including:

  • Alcohol or illicit drug abuse
  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (inherited disorder affecting the peripheral nerves)
  • Connective tissue disorders
  • Diabetes (chronic disease that affects your body’s ability to use sugar for energy)
  • Hormonal disorders such as hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • Medication side effects
  • Myasthenia gravis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Neurofibromatosis (nerve tumor that can result in hearing loss)
  • Nutritional deficiencies, especially of thiamine, niacin, and vitamins E, B1, B6 or B12
  • Prolonged exposure to toxins such as lead, mercury, and other metals
  • Repetitive stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Trigeminal neuralgia (chronic pain from malfunction of the nerve responsible for facial sensation)
  • Vascular disorders

Serious or life-threatening causes of neurological symptoms

In some cases, neurological symptoms may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Epilepsy
  • Encephalitis (inflammation and swelling of the brain due to a viral infection or other causes)
  • Head trauma
  • Meningitis (infection or inflammation of the sac around the brain and spinal cord)
  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • Rabies
  • Shock
  • Stroke
  • Transient ischemic attack (temporary stroke-like symptoms that may be a warning sign of an impending stroke)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of neurological symptoms

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your neurological symptoms including:

  • How long have you felt these symptoms?
  • When did you first notice these symptoms?
  • Where do you feel the symptoms?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • What medications are you taking?
  • Have you had an accident or injury recently?
  • Are there any neurological disorders in your family?

What are the risk factors for neurological symptoms?

A number of factors increase the risk of developing neurological symptoms. Not all people with risk factors will get neurological conditions. Risk factors for neurological conditions vary according to the type of condition. Some risk factors for neurological conditions include:

  • Alcohol or illicit substance abuse
  • Diabetes
  • Exposure to toxic substances or poisons
  • Family history of degenerative neurologic conditions
  • High blood pressure
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Repeated physical motion or stress

What are the potential complications of neurological symptoms?

Because neurological symptoms can be due to serious disease or injury, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Amputation
  • Paralysis or inability to move a body part
  • Permanent nerve damage
  • Permanent physical disability
  • Permanent or chronic pain
  • Poor quality of life
  • Sleep disorder
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection


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  2. Neuralgia. PubMed Health. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002380/
  3. Collins RD. Differential Diagnosis in Primary Care, 5th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2012.
  4. Bope ET, Kellerman RD (Eds.) Conn’s Current Therapy. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2013.
  5. Domino FJ (Ed.) Five Minute Clinical Consult. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013.

What are the signs of neurological problems?

Neurological symptoms are symptoms caused by, or occurring in, the nervous system. The nervous system consists of two anatomic parts. The central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord, acts as a central processing station. The peripheral nervous system transmits sensory information between the muscles, tissues and nerves in the rest of the body to the brain. When these con... Read more about neurological symptomsintroduction


What other symptoms might occur with neurological symptoms?

Neurological symptoms may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Neurological symptoms are diverse because the nervous system governs or participates in a number of functions as well as body systems, including control of body temperature, blood pressure, muscles, digestion and appetite, movement, and sight.

Body-wide sy... Read more about neurological symptomssymptoms

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 20, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Brain and Nerves