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What is a Neurological Deficit?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A neurological deficit is a functional impairment caused by a problem with the brain. Some examples can include weakness on one side of the body, loss of coordination, and slurred speech. Any injury involving the brain can lead to neurological deficits and patients can also be born with impairments, the result of problems with fetal development. Treatment is available, depending on the nature of the issue.

The brain uses a complex series of circuits to convey information for handling everything from logic to walking. If a problem develops along a circuit, the body may not function normally. In a person with this kind of deficit, either a signal does not get through at all, or the brain garbles it, and errors occur. With voluntary movements, this can result in uncontrolled or weak movement, and for involuntary movements and reflexes, it can mean that something does not happen at all, or that the patient experiences spasms while trying to do things like breathing.

A stroke can be a cause of a neurological deficit, as can tumors, degenerative brain diseases, and head injuries. Often, these functional problems are the first warning sign of a problem with the brain, and they may onset gradually. Someone could start experiencing low-level clumsiness that, over time, turns into more serious problems, like being unable to walk, having trouble controlling the hands for even simple movements, and difficulty speaking and swallowing.

When a patient appears to have a neurological deficit, medical imaging can be useful for locating damage in the brain and finding out which pathways are not working properly. A doctor can also conduct a physical examination, asking a patient to move the involved part of the body and noting how well the patient can function. The doctor can determine the source of the neurological deficit and start developing a treatment plan. This could include addressing the root cause, like surgery to remove a brain tumor, as well as things like physical therapy to improve functioning and skills.

Progressive neurological deficits can become disabling. A patient who cannot recover may require assistance from an aide or personal assistant as some tasks become more difficult. Some problems, like difficulty swallowing, can also present a health risk; patients may be at increased risk of aspirating on food or vomit, and could develop complications like pneumonia. It is important to evaluate a patient regularly to check for early warning signs of secondary issues to make sure the patient gets treatment in a timely fashion.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By julies — On Nov 03, 2011

The effects of a stroke can certainly cause neurologic deficit symptoms. My mom has a history of strokes, and at first they were just small ones that really didn't impair her much.

The doctor said with these smaller strokes there was reversible ischemic neurological deficit and she was able to carry on with her normal activities.

When she suffered from a major stroke, there were definite changes that are so frustrating for her. The stroke mainly affected the left side of her body.

She has trouble walking and has a big fear of falling because it is hard for her to get around. Her speech has also been affected somewhat.

She is still able to talk and carry on a conversation, but if she gets excited or upset, it is much harder to understand her.

It can be so frustrating when you want to be able to do something, but the signals just don't get to your brain.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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