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Headaches, Mood Swings, and Dropping Things

Differential Diagnosis of a Nervous System Disorder

Co Authors:

Patrick R. Field
Department of Biological Sciences
Kean University

Diana Colgan
Department of Biology
Kean University

Catherine Potok
Department of Biology
Kean University


This interrupted case study walks students through the stages of determining a diagnosis for a neural condition/disease in a 62-year-old female. The case includes the medical history, presenting signs and symptoms, pre-diagnoses, evaluation/observations, testing, analysis of the results from testing, narrowing the differential diagnosis, and the final diagnosis. In order to successfully complete the case, students will need to learn about the epidemiology, signs and symptoms, pathophysiology, diagnostic testing, and results of testing of several neural conditions/diseases including Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Guillian-Barre syndrome, Huntington’s disease, hydrocephalus, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, primary amebic meningoencephalitis, and subacute sclerosing panencephalitis. Students will create a table encompassing the characteristics of these diseases, completing it with the information provided in each stage to narrow down the diagnostic possibilities until the final diagnosis. By the end of the activity, students will understand that overlapping characteristics among these neural conditions/diseases increases the difficulty of reaching a final diagnosis. This case should be beneficial for upper-level undergraduate and graduate students pursuing a future career in the allied health professions.

  • Discuss a variety of neural diseases and neural conditions that affect the brain that are caused by genetic, autoimmune, infectious and environmental factors.
  • Apply the steps of the typical diagnostic procedure: the medical history, signs/symptoms, evaluation/observations, testing, analyses of the results from tests and the final diagnosis.
  • Analyze and differentiate the epidemiology, signs and symptoms, pathophysiology, diagnostic procedures and treatment methods of neurological disorders when narrowing down the differential diagnosis to final diagnosis.
Keywords: Differential diagnosis; neural disease; neural condition; Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease; Guillian-Barre syndrome; Huntington's disease; hydrocephalus; multiple sclerosis; Parkinson's disease; meningoencephalitis; panencephalitis
Topical Area: N/A
Educational Level: Undergraduate upper division, Graduate, Clinical education
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Discussion, Interrupted
Language: English
Subject Headings: Epidemiology   Medicine (General)   Neuroscience  
Date Posted: 2/14/2019
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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