Brain atrophy

Anatomy

Brain atrophy is a reduction of the size of the brain. It is due to a loss of neurons or a loss of the number of connections (synapses) between brain cells. 

People who suffer from brain atrophy usually develop cognitive impairment as a result of brain damage, particular in areas associated wth memory.

There are two main types of brain atrophy: focal atrophy, which occurs in specific areas of the brain, and generalized atrophy, which occurs in most areas of the brain.

Brain atrophy can occur as a result of the natural aging process. Other causes include injuries, infections, and some underlying conditions.

Symptoms of brain atrophy

Brain atrophy can affect one or more areas of the brain.

Symptoms will vary depending on the location of the atrophy and its severity.

Brain atrophy can cause the following symptoms and conditions:

Epilepsy

A seizure is a sudden, abnormal spike in electrical activity in the brain. There are two main types of seizures. One is the partial seizure, which affects only one part of the brain. The other is the generalized seizure, which affects both sides of the brain.

The symptoms of a seizure depend on which part of the brain it affects. Some people may not experience any visible symptoms, while others may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • behavior changes
  • trouble in eye movements
  • bitter taste in the mouth
  • muscle spasms
  • convulsions
  • loss of consciousness

Aphasia

The term aphasia refers to a group of symptoms that affect a person’s ability to communicate. Some types of aphasia can affect a person’s ability to produce or understand speech. Others can affect a person’s ability to read or write.

Some cases of aphasia are relatively mild, while others can seriously affect a person’s ability to communicate.

Dementia

The dementia is the term for a group of symptoms associated with a continuing decline of brain function. These symptoms can include:

  • memory loss
  • slow thinking
  • language problems
  • movement and coordination problems
  • poor judgment
  • mood disorders
  • loss of empathy
  • hallucinations
  • difficulty performing daily activities

Causes of brain atrophy

Brain atrophy can occur as a result of injury, either from a head trauma or  stroke. It can also occur as a result of any of the following illnesses:

  • encephalitis
  • neurosyphilis
  • HIV

In some cases, brain atrophy can occur as a result of a chronic disorder or condition, such as:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Pick’s disease
  • Mitochondrial encephalomyopathies, which are a group of disorders affecting the nervous system
  • Leukodystrophies, which are a group of rare genetic conditions affecting the nervous system

Diagnostic

When diagnosing brain atrophy, a doctor may start by listing a person’s medical history and asking about a person’s symptoms (when symptoms started and if something triggered them).

The doctor may also perform language or memory tests, or other specific tests of brain function.

If they suspect that a person has brain atrophy, they will need to locate the brain damage and assess its severity. This will require a MRI or CT scan.

Treatment

Treatment options for brain atrophy vary depending on its location, severity, and cause.

Injuries

Brain atrophy can occur as a long-term consequence of an injury. In these cases, treatment tends to focus on treating the causes.

Brain damage usually requires a period of rehabilitation which may involve one or more of the following:

  • physical therapy
  • speech therapy

Infections

Medication will be needed to treat infections that lead to inflammation or atrophy of the brain.

Doctors prescribe antibiotics to treat bacterial infections and antiviral drugs to treat viral infections. These medications will help fight infection and ease symptoms.

Several disorders and diseases can lead to brain atrophy. Since many of these illnesses currently have no cure, treatment usually focuses on symptom management.

Treatment may involve a combination of medications and therapies such as occupational therapy or speech therapy. These therapies may be needed to help a person recover brain function or learn strategies to help them cope.