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What is leukodystrophy?

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Quick Answer

Leukodystrophy is a set of genetic disorders that affect the growth, development or maintenance of the myelin sheath, states the United Leukodystrophy Foundation. Examples of leukodystrophies include Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease, cerebrotendinous xanthomatosis, metachromatic leukodystrophy and Canavan disease, notes the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

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Full Answer

Myelin is a spongy whitish substance that protects and insulates the axon, explains the United Leukodystrophy Foundation. When leukodystrophies damage the myelin sheath, they block messages between the brain and the rest of the body. This result in problems with vision, movement, hearing, speaking, and mental and physical development, notes MedlinePlus. Leukodystrophies are mostly inherited disorders. They usually appear during infancy or early stages of childhood, states the United Leukodystrophy Foundation.

The typical symptoms of a leukodystrophy disorder include reduced physical and mental development and progressive loss in hearing, vision, speech and muscle tone, indicates the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Leukodystrophies are difficult to detect in their early stages, notes MedlinePlus.

There are no cures for any of the leukodystrophies. Treatments are usually supportive and symptomatic, and may include recreational programs, medications, speech therapy and physical therapy, states the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. As of 2015, however, researchers believe that bone marrow transplantation may be a treatment option for some forms of leukodystrophies, reports MedlinePlus. The prognosis for leukodystrophies is determined by the specific form of the disorder, notes the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

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