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What causes brain shrinking?

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Strokes, traumatic brain injuries, Huntington's disease, cerebral palsy and Alzheimer's disease cause brain shrinkage, explains the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Leukodystrophies, fronto-temporal dementia, mitochondrial encephalomyopathies, various infectious diseases and Pick's disease also cause the condition.

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An infectious disease can result in brain shrinkage if either the infection itself or the body's inflammation response causes the death of neurons and axons in the brain, explains the NINDS. AIDS, encephalitis and neurosyphilis can cause cells to die. Mitochondrial encephalomyopathies cause brain shrinkage by disrupting neuron functioning. One such encephalomyopathy is Kearns-Sayre syndrome. Krabbe disease and some other leukodystrophies produce brain shrinkage by destroying cells' myelin sheaths, which are responsible for protecting the axons from damage.

Generalized cerebral atrophy occurs when neurons are lost in all areas of the brain, while focal cerebral atrophy describes a loss of neurons in a particular area of the brain, states the NINDS. In the case of focal atrophy, symptoms correspond with the area of the brain affected.

Progressive shrinkage across the entire brain accounts for the broad decline that Alzheimer's patients experience over time, notes the BrightFocus Foundation. In the early stages, shrinkage in the hippocampus, an area of the brain, produces short-term memory loss. As the shrinkage begins to affect the cerebral cortex, language impairments, a decline in judgment and emotional outbursts appear, and patients often eventually lose control over their bodily functions.

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