Upon hearing the name one would automatically think of some kind of disease of the teeth or of a tooth. Contrary to most thinking Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease is actually a genetically inherited neurological ailment named after the doctors Jean-Martin Charcot, Pierre Marie and Howard Henry Tooth all of whom identified the disease back in 1886.
This disease is characterized by the slow degeneration of the muscles in the hands and arms, and in the feet and lower legs. The first sign of possibly having this disease are high arches of the foot and having difficulties in walking and with balance. Hammertoes and other abnormalities of the foot bones along with the occasional cramping of the muscles in the lower leg and forearm coupled with the loss of sensations in the hands and arms, the loss of common reflexes and partial hearing and vision make up several other symptoms associated with CMT. In severe cases curvature of the spine occurs. People who have CMT generally start showing symptoms during their teen years up to early adulthood. As of today, there is no cure.
CMT is the most common of the inherited neurological diseases and is also a form of neuropathy because it affects the peripheral nerves of the foot, lower legs, arms and hands. It has several types which are differentiated from each other depending on the whereabouts of the dysfunction in the peripheral nerves. This collection of related conditions is caused by mutations in the genes that control the structure and functions of the feet, legs, arms and hands. These mutations sometimes damage the nerve itself resulting in weaker communication of messages between the limbs and the brain. Motor and sensory messages may not be received by the brain causing complications in walking and feeling pain. To make matters worse, other causes of neuropathies such as diabetes often worsen the symptoms of CMT.
When diagnosing Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, the family history of the individual along with asking any relatives if they have any of the symptoms involving CMT are coupled with a physical examination for foot abnormalities such as high arches, hammertoes, inverted heel, lack of muscle bulk and muscle weakness. Other tests such as electromyography, nerve conduction studies and nerve biopsies may be performed to measure how well the muscles and nerves are functioning. Genetic testing may also be required.
HOW IS CMT TREATED
Since there is no cure for CMT exercise with a qualified specially trained physical therapist is highly recommended. An exercise program that would include stamina and muscle strength training along with stretches for muscles and ligaments and then coupled with mild aerobic exercises would prove beneficial to delay and reduce muscle atrophy as well as nerve deterioration if started early enough and done regularly. The benefits of stretching are in the prevention or reduction of joint deformities. Exercise increases stamina and reduces fatigue also. It is so important to keep moving in today’s world or soon you won’t be able to do so. Low impact exercises such as cycling and swimming are perfect because there isn’t any pressure on the legs and feet while promoting the use of the muscles.
The severity of CMT causes weakness in the hands and fingers in some people and that’s when occupational therapy might be needed. This is coordinated by an occupational therapist to teach ways of getting around and doing things most of us take for granted such as combing your hair, tying your shoes or buttoning a blouse or shirt. Everyday activities become difficult and challenging for people with CMT. Sometimes the use of grips on knobs and snaps instead of buttons would be used to assist these patients.
There are all kinds of orthopedic devices used to improve mobility and also to prevent injury. They range from high top boots, ankle braces and foot supports to custom made shoes and shoe supports and splints. Canes and walkers are also used to improve stability in walking. Because we are all different be sure to talk to your doctor as to what would help you the most.
Surgery is mainly used for severe deformities and may improve walking and reduce the pain, however; it will not improve muscle weakness or loss of sensory sensation.
Because the lower extremities are affected it is real important to take care of the feet by washing them, moisturizing, trimming the nails, massaging and soaking the feet, inspecting them for cuts, corns, callouses, bruises and blisters and treat them accordingly to prevent infection. This is pretty much standard for all neuropathies of the foot and remember that CMT is a form of neuropathy.
WHAT OTHERS HAVE TO SAY ON CMT
A real good support group concerning Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease would help sufferers of this disease cope and manage it as well as provide the necessary encouragement to move on in life. Sharing ideas on therapies and treatments could be very uplifting even for those in severe shape. Learning more about the disease and all of the research going on would also shed some light on the future of CMT. Finding a support group is easy as asking your health department, local library, or searching the yellow pages and the internet. It is well worth seeking because you are not alone and you just might help someone else and in so doing, help yourself.
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