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What is MELAS Syndrome?

By D. Jeffress
Updated: Feb 05, 2024

MELAS syndrome, which stands for mitochondrial myopathy, encephalopathy, lactic acidosis, and stroke, is a rare but dangerous medical condition that usually becomes apparent in children and teenagers, though symptoms occasionally emerge in later stages of life. Researchers and physicians believe that the disorder is related to mutations of mitochondrial DNA. Individuals with MELAS syndrome are prone to chronic headaches, seizures, muscle fatigue, and dementia. There is no known cure for the disease, but medications and therapy have shown promise in providing relief for some symptoms and delaying the onset of debilitating muscle and brain problems.

Doctors understand the effects of MELAS syndrome, though the exact causes of the disease are still largely a mystery. There is strong evidence to suggest that the syndrome is primarily inherited from mothers who carry mutated genetic material. Genetic mutations of an individual's mitochondrial DNA can cause significant muscle, brain, and nervous system tissue damage over time, usually resulting in strokes and permanent disabilities. Buildups of lactic acid in the blood result from damaged or insufficient proteins created by mutated mitochondria.

The earliest recognizable symptoms of MELAS syndrome include frequent headaches, nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, and problems concentrating. As the disease worsens, an individual may experience vision impairment, seizures, and difficulty controlling motor movements. Late stages of the condition often results in muscle paralysis, hearing and vision loss, dementia, strokes, and eventually death. A person who believes he or she is experiencing any symptoms related to MELAS syndrome should immediately seek the professional opinion of a trained doctor, who can make a proper diagnosis and initiate treatment.

MELAS syndrome cannot be cured, though exercise, medication, supplements, and psychotherapy can help individuals suppress or delay some of their symptoms and learn to cope with their condition. Many people are able to maintain stronger muscles and promote healthy blood flow by engaging in regular activity and eating healthy foods. Clinical research suggests that vitamins and amino acids such as riboflavin and nicotinamide are helpful in blocking certain mitochondrial enzymes from causing widespread damage. Medications that treat certain symptoms, such as pain relievers for headaches and muscle pain, are able to make life more comfortable for individuals with MELAS syndrome.

People often find emotional and psychological relief from the disease by speaking with counselors and attending group therapy sessions with other afflicted persons. Counselors and psychologists give people the chance to talk about their struggles, discuss their hopes, and design strategies to accomplish their goals. Support from fellow sufferers, friends, and family members is vital to learning how to enjoy life despite debilitating circumstances.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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