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What Is Degenerative Nerve Disease?

author image Lia Stannard
Lia Stannard has been writing about women’s health since 2006. She has her Bachelor of Science in neuroscience and is pursuing a doctorate in clinical health psychology.
What Is Degenerative Nerve Disease?
Portrait of male doctor. Photo Credit Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images


Degenerative nerve disease is a serious and sometimes life-threatening condition. Also referred to as neurodegenerative disease, the deterioration of the nerves greatly affects the body's activities: balance, movement, heart function, talking and breathing are impaired. Some degenerative nerve disease patients lose the ability to be independent and care for themselves. Depending on the specific disease, the onset can begin at any point in life.


The exact cause of degenerative nerve diseases is not known, but multiple factors are involved. In many cases, the disease is genetic and prevention is not possible. Other medical conditions, like brain tumors and strokes, can also cause degenerative nerve disease. However, some possible causes can be avoided, such as excessive drinking. According to the National Institute of Health, other types of degenerative nerve diseases may be caused by viruses, toxins or chemicals.


Degenerative nerve disease is not one specific type of disease, but is a classification. Types of degenerative nerve diseases include Alzheimer's disease, spinal muscular atrophy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Lewy body disease, Huntington's disease and Friedreich's ataxia. Each of these diseases have a different effect on the body and require different types of treatment. Most of the degenerative nerve diseases occur in the middle aged or elderly; however, Friedreich's ataxia first occurs in children between the ages of 5 and 15.

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Most degenerative nerve diseases do not have a cure, so treatment is targeted at alleviating symptoms. In Parkinson's disease, patients are administered L-DOPA, a precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine, of which they have a deficit. However, the treatment window for L-DOPA closes over time and Parkinson's patients no longer receive any benefit from L-DOPA administration. Patients with Friedreich's ataxia become progressively worse, requiring a wheelchair 15 to 20 years after the onset. While medication, surgery and physical therapy can help with some of the symptoms, it will not stop the lack of mobility.

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