Diseases that cause symptoms by directly affecting the central nervous system, rather than the peripheral nervous system, are not classified as neuromuscular disease. Many of diseases of the central nervous system do affect motor and sensory functions, and have overlapping symptoms with neuromuscular disease. This can make proper diagnosis difficult.
The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord. The neurons in the central nervous system communicate with the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system consists of the neurons that run from the spinal cord out to the body, including the muscles of the arms and legs. These neurons communicate sensory and motor information from your brain throughout a person’s body and from the body back to the spinal nerves. Injury or illness of the central or nervous system can cause significant health issues, often symptoms that are similar to symptoms of neuromuscular disease.
For example, multiple sclerosis (MS) can affect one’s ability to use voluntary muscles, affecting muscle control and balance. This disease directly affects the central nervous system, however, not the peripheral nervous system. Neurons in the brain and spine lose myelin, the protective sheath covering neurons. This process interferes with the transmission of nerve signals. Because the cause of MS occurs in the central nervous system, MS is not generally considered to be a neuromuscular disease, but is considered a neurological disease.
Similarly, cerebral palsy (CP), while having symptoms that overlap with those of many neuromuscular diseases is not considered a neuromuscular disease. CP does affect voluntary motor control and movement. The term cerebral palsy actually refers to a broad group of disorders of movement that have an underlying cause in damage to the developing brain. Because the cause of CP is in the brain (part of the central nervous system) rather than the peripheral nervous system, CP is not generally considered to be a neuromuscular disease, but is considered a neurological disease.
There are a number of other neurological diseases with overlapping symptoms that are not considered neuromuscular diseases. For example, the motor and sensory problems seen in individuals who have experienced stroke are caused in the brain, and stroke is not considered a neuromuscular disease.
The symptoms of neurological diseases often overlap with other diseases, including neuromuscular disease, making differential diagnosis difficult. Obtaining accurate diagnosis can lead to more effective treatment, minimizing disability as much as possible and increasing the quality of life.
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Reijonen, J., (2011). What is Neuromuscular Disease? http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art70244.asp . Retrieved 11/2/12.
WebMD, (n.d.). Understanding Cerebral Palsy – The Basics. http://www.webmd.com/brain/understanding-cerebral-palsy-basic-information. Retrieved 11/2/12.
WebMD, (n.d.). What is Multiple Sclerosis? http://www.webmd.com/multiple-sclerosis/guide/what-is-multiple-sclerosis . Retrieved 11/2/12.