Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Your nervous system controls much of what your body does.

Your nervous system controls much of what your body does.
beginning of content

Nervous system

Your nervous system controls much of what your body does. It allows you to do things like walk, speak, swallow, breathe and learn, and controls how your body reacts in an emergency.

Your nervous system is made up of:

  • your central nervous system, or CNS, which includes the brain and spinal cord
  • your peripheral nervous system, which consists of nerves that connect your CNS to the rest of your body.

Nerves are made up of cells called neurons. Each neuron has a cell body, an axon and many dendrites.

Dendrites collect information from other cells and pass it to the cell body, while the axon carries messages away from the cell body to other parts of the body.

What does the nervous system do?

Your brain sends messages through your spinal cord and the peripheral nervous system to:

  • control the movement of your arms and legs
  • control the automatic functions of your body, such as the operations of your heart, your organs and your glands.

The nervous system is also involved in the senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. Special nerve cells carry information from your eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin to your brain.

The brain, which is part of the nervous system, carries your thoughts, feelings and emotions, and controls most of the functions of your body, including movement and what you see, hear, feel, taste, smell and say.

Diseases of the nervous system

There are hundreds of conditions that start in or affect the nervous system, including:

What can go wrong?

There are many different symptoms that could suggest a problem with the nervous system. They include:

  • headaches
  • blurry vision
  • fatigue
  • behavioural changes
  • leg or arm numbness
  • loss of coordination
  • weakness
  • slurred speech
  • tremors
  • emotional problems.

It is important to seek medical help if you have symptoms like these that don’t go away on their own.

Last reviewed: July 2015

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Found 1496 results

Brain and other central nervous system tumours | Cancer Australia Children's Cancers

Information on tumours that start in the brain or other parts of the central nervous system (CNS)

Read more on Cancer Australia website

Kids' Health - Topics - The nervous system

The nervous system is the highway along which your brain sends and receives information about what is happening in the body and around it. This highway is made up of billions of nerve cells, or neurons (say new-rons) which join together to make nerves.

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Benzodiazepines - ADF - Alcohol & Drug Foundation

Benzodiazepines are depressant drugs. This means that they slow down the activity of the central nervous system and the messages travelling between the brain and the body.

Read more on Alcohol and Drug Foundation website

Brain Foundation | Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis Multiple Sclerosis Description Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating disease, which affects the central nervous system

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, neurodegenerative condition that affects the central nervous system (CNS).

Read more on WA Health website

Brain Foundation | Acoustic Neuroma

Acoustic Neuroma Acoustic Neuroma (Vestibular schwannoma, neurinoma) Read more at Virtual Medical Centre Description The eighth cranial nerve - also known as the auditory or vestibulocochlear nerve - consists of the vestibular and cochlear divisions, which runs from the inner ear to the brain

Read more on Brain Foundation website

You and alcohol

Alcohol is a drug that acts as a depressant and slows down the brain and nervous system. It is the most widely used drug in Australia.

Read more on Get Healthy Information and Coaching Service website

Kids' Health - Topics - Caffeine

Caffeine is a drug because it has an effect on the body. It acts as a stimulant - that means the brain and nervous system speed up.

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Brain Foundation | Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral Neuropathy Peripheral Neuropathy (See also CIDP; Guillain-Barre Syndrome) Description The peripheral nerves connect the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Alcohol: what is it? -

Alcohol is a depressant drug, which means it slows down the activity of the central nervous system.

Read more on myDr website

Check your symptoms Find a health service

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo