Medical Terminology for Nervous Conditions and Pathology

By Beverley Henderson, Jennifer Lee Dorsey

You need to know the medical terminology for nervous conditions. Because the nervous system is involved in so many aspects of your body’s function, the conditions that affect it can have long-lasting implications on all bodily systems.

Common nervous conditions

Let’s take a look at some of the pathological conditions pertaining to the central nervous system:

  • Aphasia involves loss or impairment of the ability to speak.

  • Cerebrovascular accident (CVA) is also known as a stroke. It can be a rupture (hemorrhagic stroke) or obstruction of an artery (ischemic stroke), producing headache, nausea, vomiting, possible coma, paralysis, and aphasia.

  • Coma is a state of unconsciousness in which a person cannot be aroused.

  • Concussion is a temporary dysfunction after injury, usually clearing within 24 hours. It’s basically a bruise on the brain.

  • Dysphasia is the condition of having difficulty speaking.

  • Epilepsy refers to a sudden disturbance of the nervous system functioning due to abnormal electrical activity of the brain. It can manifest by a grand mal seizure, with loss of consciousness, limb contractions, and incontinence. It could also be as minor as an absence seizure, in which the person appears be “spaced out” for a moment.

    The Greek epilepsia means “seizure” and is derived from epi meaning “upon” and lambancia meaning “to seize.” Officially, the term means “seized upon.”

    Grand mal (large) seizures (also called tonic-clonic seizures) are characterized by severe convulsions and unconsciousness. Petit mal (small) seizures (also called absence seizures) consist of momentary lapses of consciousness.

  • Hemiparesis is slight paralysis of half (either right or left side) of the body.

  • Hemiplegia is paralysis of the right or left side of body often occurring after a stroke.

  • Hydrocephalus refers to an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the ventricles of the brain.

  • Irreversible coma is a coma from which there is no response to stimuli, no spontaneous movement, and a flat or inactive electroencephalogram (a record of the brain’s activity). This is what is known as a brain death.

  • Meningocele is the protrusion of the meninges through a defect in the skull or vertebral column.

  • Myasthenia gravis is muscle weakness marked by progressive paralysis that can affect any muscle in the body, but mainly those of the face, tongue, throat, and neck.

  • Neuralgia means pain in a nerve.

  • Neuritis is inflammation of a nerve.

  • Neuroma is a tumor made up of nerve cells.

  • Neurosis is an emotional disorder involving an ineffective way of coping with anxiety.

  • Palsy means paralysis. One of the most common examples is cerebral palsy, a partial paralysis and lack of muscle coordination due to damage to the cerebrum of a fetus during pregnancy.

  • Polyneuritis is the inflammation of many nerves.

  • Psychosis refers to a major mental disorder characterized by extreme derangement, often accompanied by delusions and hallucinations.

  • Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral disease affecting peripheral nerves. Blisters and pain spread in a bandlike pattern following the route of peripheral nerves affected.

  • Subdural hematoma is a blood tumor below the dura mater, produced by the collection of blood in tissue or a cavity.

  • Syncope means fainting or sudden loss of consciousness.

  • Transient global amnesia is an episode of short-term memory loss lasting a few hours, usually nonrecurring; the cause is not known, but may be ischemia or epileptic episode.

Paraplegia: The Greek para means “beside,” and plegia means “paralysis.”

Bell’s palsy involves facial paralysis due to a disorder of the facial nerve; the cause is unknown, but complete recovery is possible.

Nervous diseases and pathology

The diseases and more serious pathological conditions of the nervous system, again, have major implications for the way the rest of your body functions. From the way your muscles move to the coordination of involuntary reflexes, your nervous system can be subject to a wide range of serious pathological issues. Here are just a few of them:

  • Alzheimer’s disease: Brain disorder marked by deterioration in mental capacity, caused by atrophy (wasting away) of the brain cells; develops gradually; early signs are loss of memory for recent events, and an impairment of judgment and comprehension

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS): Also called Lou Gehrig disease, a progressive muscular atrophy or wasting away, caused by hardening of nerve tissue in the spinal cord

  • Guillain-Barre syndrome: Acute idiopathic polyneuritis, a rapid-in-onset, progressive motor neuron paralysis of unknown cause

  • Meningitis: Inflammation of the meninges caused by bacteria (bacterial meningitis) or a virus (viral meningitis), an infection of subarachnoid spaces

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS): Destruction of the myelin sheath around nerve fibers; scar tissue forms and prevents the conduction of nerve impulses, causing muscle weakness and paralysis

  • Parkinson’s disease: Degeneration of the nerves of the brain, occurring in later life, leading to tremors, weakness of muscles, and slowness of movement; a progressive condition that leads to muscle stiffness, shuffling gait (manner of walking), and forward-leaning posture

  • Reye’s syndrome: Disease of the brain and other organs, such as the liver; affects children in adolescence; cause unknown but typically follows a viral infection; often combined with the administering of aspirin

  • Spina bifida: Congenital defect of the spinal column due to malunion of the vertebral parts

  • Spina bifida occulta: Vertebral lesion covered with skin and not seen; evident only on x-ray examination

  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA): Sudden deficient supply of blood to the brain lasting a short time; sometimes called a “baby” stroke