A focal neurologic deficit is a problem with nerve, spinal cord, or brain function. It affects a specific location, such as the left side of the face, right arm, or even a small area such as the tongue. Speech, vision, and hearing problems are also considered focal neurological deficits.
The type, location, and severity of the problem can indicate which area of the brain or nervous system is affected.
In contrast, a nonfocal problem is NOT specific to a certain area of the brain. It may include a general loss of consciousness or emotional problem.
Neurological deficits - focal
A focal neurologic problem can affect any of these functions:
Movement changes including paralysis, weakness, loss of muscle control, increased muscle tone, loss of muscle tone, or movements a person cannot control (involuntary movements, such as tremor)
Sensation changes include paresthesia (abnormal sensations), numbness, or decreases in sensation
Poor gag reflex, swallowing difficulty, and frequent choking
Speech or language difficulties such as aphasia (a problem understanding or producing words) or dysarthria (a problem making the sounds of words), poor enunciation, poor understanding of speech, difficulty writing, lack of ability to read or understand writing, inability to name objects (anomia)
The physical examination will include a detailed examination of your nervous system function.
Which tests are done depends on your other symptoms and the possible cause of the nerve function loss. The tests that are used try to locate the part of the nervous system that is involved. Common examples are:
Griggs RC, Jozefowicz RF, Aminoff MJ. Approach to the patient with neurologic disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 403.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, Departments of Anatomy and Neurological Surgery, University of California, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.