Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease is a group of disorders passed down through families that affect the nerves outside the brain and spine. These are called the peripheral nerves.
Charcot-Marie-Tooth is one of the most common nerve-related disorders passed down through families (inherited). Changes to at least 40 genes cause different forms of this disease.
The disease leads to damage or destruction to the covering (myelin sheath) around nerve fibers.
Nerves that stimulate movement (called the motor nerves) are most severely affected. The nerves in the legs are affected first and most severely.
Symptoms most often begin between mid-childhood and early adulthood. They may include:
Later, similar symptoms may appear in the arms and hands. These may include a claw-like hand.
A physical exam may show:
Nerve conduction tests are often done to identify different forms of the disorder. A nerve biopsy may confirm the diagnosis.
Genetic testing is also available for most forms of the disease.
There is no known cure. Orthopedic surgery or equipment (such as braces or orthopedic shoes) may make it easier to walk.
Physical and occupational therapy may help maintain muscle strength and improve independent functioning.
Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease slowly gets worse. Some parts of the body may become numb, and pain can range from mild to severe. Eventually the disease may cause disability.
Complications may include:
Call your health care provider if there is ongoing weakness or decreased sensation in the feet or legs.
Genetic counseling and testing is advised if there is a strong family history of the disorder.
Reviewed By: Anna C. Edens Hurst, MD, MS, Assistant Professor in Medical Genetics, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.