Brain atrophy or cerebral atrophy is a disorder categorised by loss of brain cells called neurons and atrophy damages the connection that helps the cells to communicate. It is caused as result of several diseases that damage the brain cells, including Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. Generally, as a person ages, it is quite natural to lose some brain cells, however, it is a slow process. Brain atrophy is mostly associated with disease or injury that develops more rapidly and it is more harmful. This condition affects different regions of the brain.
Focal atrophy affects cells in certain regions of the brain that leads to loss of function in specific regions.
Generalised atrophy affects cells all over the brain.
The lifespan of patients affected with brain atrophy is influenced by the disorder that causes brain shrinkage. People with Alzheimer’s disease lives for about 4 to 8 years after diagnosis and those with multiple sclerosis can lead a normal life if the condition is promptly diagnosed and effectively treated.
The symptoms of brain atrophy vary depending on which regions of the brain cells are damaged.
Dementia is the loss of memory, learning skills, thinking and managerial functions like planning and organizing.
Seizures are sudden surges of abnormal electrical impulses in the brain that leads to repetitive movements, convulsions and at times loss of consciousness
Aphasia is a condition that involves speaking and understanding language problems.
The most common causes of brain atrophy are injuries, diseases and infections that damage brain cells and cause atrophy.
Stroke develops when blood flow to part of the brain region is disrupted. Lack of oxygen-rich blood supply, neurons in the region die and the functions managed by those brain regions such as movements and speech are lost.
Traumatic brain injury is any damage to the brain that may be caused due to a fall, motor vehicle accident or hit to the head.
Diseases and Disorders
Diseases and disorders that may lead to brain atrophy include:
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are conditions where the brain cells become damaged in the long run and lose their ability to communicate with one another.
Cerebral palsy is a congenital disorder that affects movement and leads to poor muscle coordination, difficulty with walking and other movement issues.
Huntington’s disease is an inherited condition that gradually damages neurons.
Leukodystrophies are a group of genetic disorders that destruct the myelin sheath – a protective coating around nerve cells. It can cause problems with memory, movement, behaviour, vision, and hearing.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease, where the immune system damages the protective layer around nerve cells and results in problems in sensation, movement, and coordination.
Infections like AIDS, encephalitis, and neurosyphilis can result in inflammation of brain cells and damage brain neurons.
The doctor initially diagnoses the underlying health conditions that are damaging brain cells. A complete physical examination and certain tests are suggested by the health care provider which includes:
Brain imaging scans like computerised tomography (CT) uses X-ray images from different angles to produce a detailed picture of the brain.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) produces brain images on film after exposing the brain to a magnetic field for a short period.
Treatment depends on managing each condition that causes brain atrophy.
Stroke is usually treated with medications like plasminogen activator (TPA), which helps to dissolve the clot and restore the blood flow to the brain. Furthermore, surgery can also help to remove a blood clot or fix a damaged blood vessel. Anticlotting and blood pressure-lowering medications are prescribed to avert another attack of stroke.
Traumatic brain injury is also treated with surgery that averts any further damage to brain cells.
Multiple sclerosis is mostly treated with drugs that may help prevent the immune system from attacking nerve cells.
Infectious conditions are treated with antiviral and antibiotics that may help avert nerve cell damage and complications.
There is no treatment or cure for brain damage caused due to Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral palsy, and Huntington’s disease. However, some medications can ease symptoms of these conditions.