The nervous system is like the power system of the body. The parts of the nervous system — the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and muscles — work together to send signals throughout the body, telling different organs how and when to function. Breathing, eating, walking, speaking, even reading these words — none of these actions would be possible without the nervous system.
That’s why, if there is a problem with your child’s nervous system, it is important that they get the absolute best care.
The neurology and neurosurgery departments at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center treat children with nervous system diseases and disorders. We provide ongoing care and treatment.
What’s The Difference Between Neurology And Neurosurgery?
Neurological conditions may be treated by a neurologist, a neurosurgeon, or both. In general, neurologists tend to focus on disorders of the brain and nervous system while neurosurgeons treat injuries or diseases of the brain, spine, or peripheral nerves. However, there is some overlap between the types of conditions that both neurologists and neurosurgeons treat.
What Sets Children’s Apart?
Children’s is the only medical center in the region that is devoted solely to pediatrics:
- Our physicians recognize that children aren’t just miniature adults — they have their own medical and psychosocial needs, and communicate differently than adults.
- Children’s is the only pediatric hospital in the area that offers neurosurgery by physicians who are fellowship-trained in pediatric neurosurgery. Because of this, Children’s is able to treat patients with the most challenging and unique medical needs.
- We make sure to cover all of your child’s non-medical needs, too. Our social workers, chaplains, and child life specialists ensure that caring for your child’s psychosocial, emotional, and spiritual health are part of their overall medical care.
- Epilepsy is the most common brain disorder among US children, affecting about 470,000 children.
- Cerebral palsy is a brain disorder and a motor disorder. It affects 500,000 US children, making it one of the most common brain disorders and the most common motor disorder among US children.
- An estimated 4,600 children and adolescents under age 19 will be diagnosed with a primary brain tumor each year.
- Almost half a million children in the US are admitted to emergency rooms each year because of a traumatic brain injury.
Conditions We Treat
Brain Or Spinal Cord TumorsA brain tumor is a group of unusual cells that form in the brain or part of the spine. There are more than 120 different types of brain and spinal cord tumors, and physicians classify them based on where they began, where they are located, the type of tissue involved, and whether they are cancerous.
Most childhood brain and spine tumors are primary tumors, meaning they began in the brain or spine, and didn’t spread there from another part of the body. They can be either malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous).
Even when brain tumors are benign, they can still be dangerous and require treatment. They may push on the brain or spine and cause pressure. If they are located in areas of the brain that control vital functions, such as breathing, benign tumors can be life-threatening.
Many times, brain and spinal cord tumors have no symptoms. However, your child may experience:
- Recurrent headaches
- Personality changes
- Vision problems
- Short-term memory loss
- Difficulties with speech and comprehension
- Poor coordination
Treatment depends on the type and size of the tumor, as well as your child’s overall health. Your child may need surgery to remove the tumor, radiation or chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, or medication to reduce seizures or brain swelling.
Cerebral PalsyCerebral palsy is a group of disorders that impact the parts of the brain that control movement and muscle coordination. Mild cases may cause awkward movements, but require little or no treatment. Severe cases can make it impossible to walk or speak, and require lifelong care or assistance.
Common symptoms of cerebral palsy include:
- Tightened muscles that will not stretch
- Unusual, awkward walking (e.g., walking on the toes, arms tucked in towards the sides of the body)
- Uncontrolled movements
- Poor coordination
- Floppy muscles
- Excessive drooling
- Difficulty eating, swallowing, or speaking.
While there is no cure for cerebral palsy, there are treatments to make it easier to live with and to improve life and personal care skills. Your child may need physical, occupational, or speech therapy, medication to relax muscles or prevent seizures, or surgery to loosen muscles.
Head InjuriesIf a head injury causes sudden brain damage, it is called a traumatic brain injury. The head injury can be due to a direct hit or blow to the head, or when an object, such as a bullet, directly pierces the brain. Traumatic brain injuries often occur from a fall, vehicle crash, or sports accident.
Some traumatic brain injuries, such as concussions, are mild and do not cause any long-term damage. Others can cause long-term problems, such as depression, anxiety, loss of smell, decreased intellectual function, or sleep disorders. Fortunately, children tend to recover more fully than adults. Even if the injury is severe, your child has a good chance of recovery.
In very serious cases, an injury can put so much pressure on the brain that it becomes life-threatening. However, there are surgeries and procedures to relieve pressure and keep your child healthy, even with a traumatic brain injury.
Muscular DystrophyMuscular dystrophy isn’t just one disease — it’s actually a group of more than 30 diseases that cause permanent muscle weakness and muscle loss. It gets worse with time, and can eventually cause an inability to walk.
Symptoms and signs depend on the specific type of muscular dystrophy, but some of the most common ones include:
- Enlarged calf muscles
- Frequent falls
- A waddling motion when walking
- Walking on the toes or balls of the feet
- Learning disorders
- Problems with planning ahead or making decisions
- Difficulty swallowing
There is no cure for muscular dystrophy, but there are treatments to help with symptoms. Your child may be prescribed medication to improve muscle strength; a walker or wheelchair to let them move independently; or physical, occupational, or speech therapy to slow down the progression of symptoms.
Seizures And EpilepsyA seizure is a sudden surge of electric activity in the brain. It affects how someone appears or behaves for a certain period of time. While many people associate seizures with shaking, seizures can actually cause many different types of symptoms — shaking is only one type of seizure.
Depending on where in the brain the electric activity takes place, a seizure can cause staring spells (staring without responding to people or the environment), muscle jerks or twitches, stomach pain, or changes in sensation or emotion.
Epilepsy is a condition where a person has recurring seizures. The majority of cases have no known cause. If your child has epilepsy, they are not alone — epilepsy is the most common childhood brain disorder in the US. About two-thirds of children with seizures outgrow them by the time they’re teenagers.
The first course of treatment for epilepsy is usually antiseizure medications. If medication does not work, your child may need brain surgery, an implanted device that prevents and controls seizures, or changes in diet. For example, your child may be put on the ketogenic diet — a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that has been shown to control seizures in some children with epilepsy.
Spina BifidaIn a typical pregnancy, the spinal column of a fetus closes during the first month. Spina bifida is a neural tube defect — a birth defect of the brain, spine, or spinal cord — that occurs when the column does not close during the first month of pregnancy.
Most people with spina bifida have normal intelligence. However, if your child has spina bifida, they may experience difficulty walking or learning, urinary or bowel problems, or a buildup of fluid in the brain.
Your child may need surgery to repair the defect — possibly within the first 1 to 2 days of life — and it’s possible they will need more surgeries later in life. In addition, your child may need to work with a physical therapist so they can improve strength and balance, and learn how to use equipment to help move independently (e.g., wheelchair, walker).
About 20 to 50% of children with spina bifida also have tethered spinal cord syndrome. This is a neurological disorder that causes unusual stretching in the spinal cord. If your child has a tethered spinal cord, they may need surgery to prevent, slow down, or reverse neurological symptoms, such as pain or difficulty moving.
What To Do Next
Your child will need a referral to see a neurologist or neurosurgeon. Once the referral has been submitted, call 402-955-5372 to make an appointment with a neurologist, or call 402-955-8600 to learn more about scheduling neurosurgery.
For Referring Providers
The Physicians’ Priority Line is your 24-hour link to pediatric specialists at Children’s for referrals, emergency and urgent consults, physician-to-physician consults, admissions, and transport services. Call 855-850-KIDS (5437).
Learn more about referring patients.