Cerebral atrophy, also known as brain atrophy, is defined as the loss of cells in the brain. This condition can be focal, which means than one specific area of the brain can be affected. It also can be generalized, meaning that the entire brain shows a loss of cells. If the affected areas are the cerebral hemispheres, the left and right regions of the brain, it can lead to impairment of conscious thought and voluntary functions.
The brain tends to shrink with age, but with brain atrophy, it shrinks more than what is expected for the person's age. The severity can range from mild to moderate to severe. Mild cases generally do not have any serious consequences. Moderate to severe forms of brain atrophy can be seen in chronic neurological diseases, such Alzheimer's disease.
Cerebral atrophy involves the loss of tissue, which can cause a number of cognitive and neurological problems. Serious loss of cognitive ability, known as dementia, can develop as a result. Seizures also can occur as one of the symptoms. A disorder characterized by difficulty in producing or comprehending spoken or written language is known as aphasia, another one of the symptoms of cerebral atrophy.
Dementia has no cure but is often kept from worsening with the use of medications. For treating seizures, doctors generally prescribe anti-seizure medications. In the case of aphasia, treatment with the help of a speech-language pathologist is usually effective. The pathologist helps the patient relearn how to read, write and repeat phrases as well as follow directions.
Many diseases can bring on the onset of this condition. Stroke can be one of the causes. A condition called Pick's disease, which causes progressive destruction of nerve cells, can also cause cerebral atrophy. Lesions in the brain, which impair motor coordination, a condition known as cerebral palsy, can result in this disorder.
Other diseases that can cause brain atrophy are multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, in which lesions in the brain cause abnormal discharges of electrochemicals, resulting in seizures. Huntington's disease and various other genetic disorders that cause proteins to be built in toxic levels within brain cells are also known to be likely causes. Brain atrophy is diagnosed by using neuroimaging techniques such as positron emission tomography and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Cerebral atrophy that spreads to all parts of the brain is usually fatal. In cases where only a specific region is affected, however, it usually is not fatal. Generally, treatment of the disorder is symptomatic and is dependent on the condition causing it. Drug therapy is a viable option, along with proper care that helps stimulate and maintain individuals who have cerebral atrophy.