Focal neurological deficits


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.

Alternative Names

Neurological deficits - focal


A focal neurologic problem can affect any of these functions:

Other examples of focal loss of function include:


Anything that damages or disrupts any part of the nervous system can cause a focal neurologic deficit. Examples include:

Home Care

Home care depends on the type and cause of the problem.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

If you have any loss of movement, sensation, or function, call your health care provider.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

The health care provider will take your medical history and perform a physical examination.

Medical history questions may include:

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:


Bradley WG, Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J. Diagnosis of neurological disease. In: Bradley WG, Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, eds. Neurology in Clinical Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Butterworth-Heinemann Elsevier; 2008:chap 1.

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.

Review Date: 7/31/2011
Reviewed By: 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.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.