The differences between neurological and psychiatric diseases

The terms “neurological disease” and “psychiatric disease” are often used interchangeably., And there are even many experts who believe that there is no real difference between the two types of disorders.

In this article, we will describe the differences and similarities between neurological and psychiatric diseases.

What are neurological diseases?

Neurology is the branch of medicine that deals with the study of the anatomy, functions and organic alterations of the nervous system.. This discipline is largely based on the contributions of neurosciences, which are defined as the study of the nervous system as a whole and are nourished by methods such as cell analysis and neuroimaging.

When we talk about neurological diseases, we are generally referring to any type of disorder that affects the nervous system, regardless of its causes or symptoms. Therefore, it is a very broad term that can be used for such different phenomena as insomnia and Korsakoff syndrome.

There are many types of neurological diseases. These can be classified according to different criteria; If one is guided by the location of the alterations, one of the most common, we find neurological disorders that affect the brain, spinal cord, cranial nerves, peripherals or the autonomic nervous system.

Some illustrative examples of disorders that are often classified as neurological diseases are dementia and other neurodegenerative disorders, neuropathies, epilepsy, or behavioral disorders caused by brain damage, such as aphasia (which affects language) and apraxia (associated with planning of movements).

The causes of neurological diseases are as varied as their manifestations. Among the most common are genetic disorders, nerve damage from external causes, infections, vascular disorders, and lifestyle factors such as malnutrition or excessive consumption of certain compounds.

Psychiatric illnesses or mental disorders

The concept of “psychiatric illness” can be considered as equivalent to that of “mental disorder”., Which predominates in the field of psychology, with which psychiatry overlaps in a very significant (and often problematic) way. It is used to talk about alterations related to outward behavior or to what we call “the mind”.

Psychiatry is the specialty of medicine that deals with the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of mental disorders or illnesses. Unlike psychology, he specializes specifically in pathology; in this sense, it is close to clinical psychology, although psychiatrists can prescribe pharmacological treatments.

This discipline has been questioned even more than psychology for its conception and management of mental problems. Critical perspectives in psychiatry deny the social labeling that follows from medical diagnoses, the rigidity of these procedures, and the medicalization of non-pathological inter-individual differences.

Psychiatric illnesses can be due to both organic and environmental causes; for example, traits such as neuroticism, which predisposes to the development of anxiety disorders, are largely determined by genetic factors, although stress and other psychosocial variables (eg drug addiction) are also critical.

Among the so-called mental disorders, we can highlight disorders such as schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD, anorexia and bulimia nervosa, post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia and bipolar disorder. As we see, some of them can also be classified under the category of neurological diseases.

Differences and similarities between these types of alterations

There is a general tendency to understand psychiatry and neurology as complementary sciences. Thus, the two would have a common interest in many disorders, although each would specifically address some and place a different emphasis on analyzing the manifestations of the disorders and their neurophysiological correlates.

However, some consider that the syndromes which we call “psychiatric illnesses” are simply neurological disorders whose anatomical and physiological characteristics are not fully identified at the moment. From this point of view, psychiatry would be necessary but an example of atavistic body-mind dualism.

David and Nicholson (2015) deny this idea and propose that the fundamental difference between neurology and psychiatry is that the latter focuses on behaviors and mental content such as thoughts, perceptions and emotions, while neurology deals with preferably from the organic basis of the disorders. .

In the same vein, Baker et al. (2002) warned that neurology should be avoided, although it has been argued that psychiatry would also benefit from knowledge gained from neuroscience. According to the authors, Mental health cannot be reduced to its neuroanatomical correlates; each of these sciences would therefore have its own field of specialization.

Bibliographical references:

  • Baker, MG, Kale, R. and Menken, M. (2002). The wall between neurology and psychiatry: Advances in neuroscience indicate that it is time to tear it down. BMJ, 324 (7352): 1468-9.
  • David, AS and Nicholson, T. (2015). Are Neurological and Psychiatric Disorders Different? British Journal of Psychiatry, 207 (5): 373-4.

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