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Medical Interpreting: The Nervous System

As we move through the systems, you’ll start to see how they fit together like puzzle pieces. This is one of the most important things to keep in mind as a medical interpreter. When you can see the bodily systems in a holistic way, you can anticipate medical vocabulary the doctor might use. This is useful for both pre-study and for lowering the register during assignments.

The next modules we are going to talking about correspond to each bodily system.

  • Respiratory System
  • Muscular System
  • Skeletal System
  • Circulatory System
  • Gastrointestinal System
  • Integumentary System
  • Nervous System
  • Inmune System
  • Most Common Scans

We’re making our way through the bodily systems and have arrived at the control point for it all! In this installment of our Medical Interpreting series, we’ll discuss the nervous system.

The nervous system is where everything “comes together,” so to speak. It reaches from our major organs to the tips of our fingers. Neural impulses control everything we do and work with the rest of our body to facilitate movement, sensation, and balance.


An Overview of the Nervous System

The nervous system coordinates actions and sensory information by transmitting signals to and from different parts of the body. This happens via an extraordinarily complex neural map. The nervous system then works in tandem with other systems of the body to respond to the stimulus. The cells that make up the nervous system are called neurons. Neurons send electrochemical impulses through the body, rapidly and precisely, and back to the brain’s own neural network.

Types of Nerves in the Human Body

There are over seven trillion nerves in the human body that can be classed into four categories: cranial, motor, sensory, and autonomic.

  • Cranial nerves: These are twelve pairs of cranial nerves originate at the underside of the brain. They include the olfactory, optic, oculomotor, trochlear, trigeminal, abducens, facial, vestibulocochlear, glossopharyngeal, vagus, spinal accessory and hypo glossal nerves. These are essential in vision, smell, eye and facial movements, salivation, and tongue movements.
  • Motor Nerves: Motor nerves send impulses from the brain and spinal cord throughout the body to stimulate movement. Motor neurons allow people to do it all: from blinking to walking to talking to dancing and everything in between.
  • Sensory Nerves: Sensory nerves transmit information in exactly the opposite direction from motor neurons. Instead of sending impulses from the brain to the body, sensory neurons collect information from the body. They send it back to the spinal cord and the brain.
  • Autonomic Nerves: Autonomic (you can think of them as “automatic”) nerves regulate the activity of automatic muscle processes. These include heartbeats, peristalsis, and glands. The autonomic nervous system includes two subcategories. The sympathetic nervous system regulates heartbeat, fight-or-flight response, and other similar impulses. The parasympathetic nervous system regulates digestion, excretion, and other metabolic activities.

Common Nervous System Disorders and Maladies

A neurologist is the medical professional responsible for diagnosing nervous system disorders and diseases. Here are some of the most common maladies you might encounter on assignment as an interpreter:

  • Dementia: Dementia is a general term for a group of degenerative conditions, most commonly seen in the elderly. The most common of these is Alzheimer’s disease, which attacks the brain cells and neurotransmitters. This affects how the brain’s able to process and store information. Alzheimer’s presents with speech difficulty, forgetfulness, difficulty with performing everyday routines, and mood and personality changes.
  • Bell’s Palsy: Bell’s Palsy is the weakness or paralysis of one side of the face. It’s caused by damage to the facial nerve or general inflammation and usually clears without treatment within 3-9 months. Bell’s palsy can also cause a drooping eyelid/difficulty closing one eye, headache, sensitivity, difficulty eating, drooling, and loss of taste.
  • Cerebral Palsy: In cerebral palsy, nervous system damage (localized in the motor cortex) before, during, or after birth impairs muscle control. The condition affects coordination, muscle tone, movement, and posture. It’s also associated with impaired speech, vision, hearing, learning, and eating. It is not degenerative but there’s no known cure.
  • Epilepsy: Epilepsy is a broad term for a range of nervous system disorders that cause repeated seizures. These seizures may be triggered by stress, sounds, light, smells, or another stimulus. It’s a treatable disorder, with medication and trigger avoidance.
  • Motor Neuron Disease: Motor Neuron Disease, also known as MND, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, affects the neurons. This causes muscle weakness that leads to paralysis. MND has no known cure, but doctors focus on maintaining mobility and muscle control for as long as possible.
  • Multiple Sclerosis: Also known as MS, Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic disease that affects the myelin sheath. MS causes scars or lesions in the nervous system and impairs neural communication. MS typically starts with mild symptoms that build as the damage extends. The most common symptoms include a lack of muscle control, loss of coordination and balance, sensitivity to heat. MS can also present with tiredness, vertigo, dizziness, incontinence, personality and mood changes, and inability to concentrate. There is no known cure, but medicines are often prescribed to ease the symptoms and delay progression.
  • Sciatica: Sciatica is a condition characterized by pain in the back, buttocks, and legs. It’s caused by injury, bone spurs or growths, spinal canal narrowing, or tight and swollen muscles in the buttock. Symptoms include pain, numbness, and tingling in the leg. Mild sciatica typically goes away on its own with rest. More severe forms may require physical therapy, lifestyle changes, and anti-inflammatory medications.
  • Parkinson’s Disease: Parkinson’s disease is caused by damage to the nerve cells in a region of the brain that produces dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical vital to smooth muscle movements. Parkinson’s mainly affects people who are 65 or older but early onset is possible. Parkinson’s presents as muscle weakness, shaking (often in the hands), muscle rigidity or stiffness, stooped posture, and balance problems. It can also cause depression, memory loss, forgetfulness, and insomnia. There is no known cure. Treatment options include medication to substitute or increase dopamine, lifestyle changes, and (in some cases) brain surgery.

Medical Terminology for Interpreters: an eLearning Course by Global Arena

Are you trying to brush up on your medical knowledge (or bone up, as the case may be)? Have you found yourself reaching for your dictionary during medical assignments? Would you like to better follow the conversation so you can lower the register when you need to? Global Arena’s eLearning course, Medical Terminology for Interpreters offers the foundation you’re looking for. It’s a 3-hour course covering every bodily system and how they connect, with a mix of interactive and lecture slides.

Every module includes a mini-review, culminating in a comprehensive review at the end of the course. It’s self-paced and available from any device that can connect to the internet. The course also includes lifetime access to our eLearning platform and a glossary with spaces to write target-language terms. You’ll receive a certificate of completion upon successful comprehensive review results. Click here for more information and to sign up today!

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