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A to Z: Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease

May also be called: CMT; Peroneal Muscular Atrophy; Hereditary Motor and Sensory Neuropathy; HMSN

Charcot (shar-KOE)-Marie-Tooth disease is the term for a group of inherited disorders that affect the nerves in the arms and legs.

More to Know

The nervous system consists of the brain, the spinal cord, and a network of smaller nerves that branch out from the spinal cord to the entire body. These nerves make up the peripheral nervous system.

In Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT), peripheral nerves are damaged, causing interference with the signals being sent to and from the brain to the limbs. Over time, this can lead to muscle weakness, loss of sensation in the hands and feet, difficulty walking, and other muscle- and bone-related conditions.

CMT is an inherited disorder, meaning it's passed down from parent to child through genes. Someone with CMT inherits a defect in the genes that produce protein used to make axons or myelin, which are both parts of nerves cells. Axons are like long, thin fibers that send electrical signals. Myelin is a substance that makes up the sheath that protects and nourishes the axons. The genetic defect affects the way the nerve functions and causes it to slowly degenerate, eventually making symptoms worse.

There is no cure for CMT and it can't be prevented. Treatment usually involves a combination of physical therapy, occupational therapy, moderate exercise, leg braces, and shoe inserts. In some cases, surgery may be performed to correct foot or joint deformities.

Keep in Mind

Working with a doctor and therapists to keep muscles strong and limber can slow the progression of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease and help lessen the severity of symptoms. The earlier treatment and therapy begin, the more effective they will be, so it's important to see a doctor about any symptoms of CMT as soon as they appear.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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