These are questions with answers that are most commonly asked. Many of these questions have been submitted through to and answered by Dr Simcock, a neurologist and the Neurological Foundation’s Medical Advisor.

  • I have migraine for years. They usually start with sparkly vision, but in the last attack I found I couldn't speak properly. Does this mean there is something going wrong with my brain?

    Visual symptons are the commonest sort of brain disturbance in migraine. Sensory symptons such as tingling/numbness in the one hand or side of the mouth are quite common, and difficulty in understanding speech and inability to say the words you want to also occur, but are less common. All of these symptons are due to a wave of altered excitability spreading over the cortex of the brain. It is not due to a spasm of the brain arteries.

  • I have noticed when I hold on to things it is difficult to let go. It seems to be worse in cold weather. My doctor has told me I may have a muscle disease. Is this correct?

    You are describing dystonia, which is certainly due to a muscle disorder. Sometimes this is the only significant sympton, but sometimes it is associated with progressive weakness of some muscle groups. These disorders can run in families so you should ask all of your family if they have similar symptons or any weakness. You should see a specialist.

  • I have one grandmother ( on my mother’s side ) with Alzheimer’s Disease and my other grandmother has Parkinson’s Disease. Am I likely to inherit these disorders?

    You have a slightly increased risk of developing either PD or AD. Rarely, these disorders can be strongly inherited, but in this case the age of onset of symptoms is much younger – in the 30’s and 40’s, rather than in the 70’s. I presume that your grandparents are in the older age group so that you do not have any strong predisposition to either disorder.

  • I have recently had an attack of shingles. My doctor says it is quite common at my age. Most viral infections seem to occur in childhood - why do shingles occur later in life?

    Shingles (herpes zoster) is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) which causes chicken pox in childhood. By adolescence, 90 per cent of people have been infected. The  virus then remains in the nerve cells of the sensory cranial nerves or in the nerve cells of the ganglia in the sensory spinal nerve roots. It remains inactive and causes no problems until the virus is activated. It then travels down the nerve and causes the skin rash. The trigger for the re-activation process is not known.

  • I have Sjogrens' syndrome and recently developed weak leags and numbness from the chest down. I have been told that the MR scan shows a lesion in the spinal cord at the T3 level. What can I expect to happen?

    Sjogren's syndrome is an auto-immunue disorder usually affecting women, causing dry eyes and dry mouth. While this is a fairly common disorder (affecting more than 2% of the population over 50) neurological symptons are very uncommon. The most frequent neurological symptons are loss of sensation and loss of balance caused by inflammation by the nerve or nerve joints. A few patients have an spinal cord lesion or optic neuritis (inflammation in the nerve to the eye). I would expect you to make a good recovery.