What is cerebral atrophy?
Cerebral atrophy refers to the progressive loss of brain cells over time. Atrophy refers to a decreased size or wasting away of any part of the body. Cerebral atrophy can happen in either the entire brain or in just one part of the brain and can lead to decreased brain mass and loss of neurological function. The symptoms of cerebral atrophy depend on the cause and location of cell death.
Cerebral atrophy can occur due to brain injury, as in the case of stroke, or to a neurological disease, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral palsy, or Huntington’s disease. Infections of the brain can also lead to the death of brain cells and cerebral atrophy.
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Symptoms of cerebral atrophy include dementia, seizures, loss of motor control, and difficulty with speaking, comprehension or reading. Dementia, which is marked by memory loss and an inability to perform daily activities, may be mild or severe and may worsen with increasing atrophy. Seizures can range from absence seizures (sudden loss of responsiveness) to convulsive seizures.
Depending on the underlying cause, cerebral atrophy may progress very slowly or very rapidly. Cerebral atrophy is life threatening, and there is no known cure. Treatment for cerebral atrophy focuses on treating the symptoms and complications of the disease. In cases in which cerebral atrophy is due to an infection, treatment of the infection may stop the symptoms of atrophy from worsening.
Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms of cerebral atrophy, such as seizures or loss of consciousness.
Seek prompt medical care for any symptoms of cerebral atrophy that interfere with daily life, such as changes in responsiveness and difficulty with speaking, vision or movement.
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- NINDS cerebral atrophy information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/cerebral_atrophy/cerebral_atrophy.htm.
- Alzheimer's disease. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001767/.
- Buchman AS, Boyle PA, Yu L, et al. Total daily physical activity and the risk of AD and cognitive decline in older adults. Neurology 2012; 78:1323.