Understanding Brain Shrinkage (Atrophy)

by | Mar 5, 2024

Unlock insights into shrinking brain (atrophy) with our brain aneurysm comprehensive resources. Explore causes, symptoms, and preventive measures to safeguard cognitive health. From neurointerventional treatments to the symptoms, progressive diseases, diagnosis, and more, learn what it is and how to prevent brain shrinkage due to age. 

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An Introduction to the Shrinking Brain

Our brains are complicated organs that can be very fragile. Brain atrophy can happen as a result of a number of conditions, and understanding what it means and how it happens will help you or your loved one deal with the implications of brain atrophy.


What is Brain Atrophy?

Brain atrophy means that your brain has lost cells or connections between cells. Everyone experiences some brain atrophy as they age (which is part of why you might not have the same sharp memory at 65 that you did at 25).

Brain atrophy can be “focal” (occurring in a specific brain region) or “generalized” (occurring across the entire brain. It is sometimes called cerebral atrophy.


What Are the Causes?

Again, some brain atrophy is part of the normal aging process. However, brain atrophy can be caused by a variety of conditions, including:

  • Chronic neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsey.
  • Progressive diseases such as dementia
  • Certain infections, including encephalitis and HIV
  • Injury to the brain

Progressive diseases are one of the most common causes of brain atrophy.


What are Progressive Diseases?

Some people experience progressive neurological diseases as they get older, and some of these diseases cause brain atrophy. There are three main progressive diseases that affect the brain in this way:

  1. Parkinson’s disease. This is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects a part of the brain called the substantia nigra. This impacts the brain’s production of a hormone called dopamine, which your body uses to send messages between nerve cells. The dopamine shortage affects everything from mood to movement.
  2. Alzheimer’s disease. The most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s causes problems with memory and executive function, resulting in trouble with all kinds of activities including handling money or finding your way around.
  3. Other forms of dementia. These include vascular dementia, dementia with lewy bodies, and frontotemporal dementia. Dementia with lewy bodies is sometimes associated with Parkinson’s and vascular dementia can be caused by a stroke, TIA, or brain injury.

These diseases are incurable, but medication can be used to slow progression and improve quality of life.


Does the Brain Shrink From Brain Damage?

Yes. The brain can shrink from any kind of brain damage, due to cellular loss. Your brain can regenerate cells after this kind of damage, but it needs the right conditions. Some common forms of brain damage include:

  1. Stroke. About two-thirds of stroke survivors experience post-stroke cognitive impairment, particularly if you had hypertension before the stroke.
  2. Trauma. You can experience brain atrophy after experiencing a traumatic head injury from a fall, accident, etc. A statistically significant risk was noted after brain injury with loss of consciousness. This appears to be associated with injury to axons. The degeneration can last for years after the injury.
  3. Infection. Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain, which can be caused by an infection or an autoimmune condition. Often, the specific cause is unknown. The inflammation causes the brain to swell. Encephalitis can result from a variety of inflections, including childhood infections such as measles, and various insect-carried viruses such as West Nile virus. The most common causes are herpes simplex, varicella zoster, and enteroviruses.


Brain Atrophy Symptoms

Symptoms depend on which part of the brain is affected and how badly. They include partial and generalized seizures, aphasia (difficulty producing or understanding speech and/or reading and writing), and dementia. Dementia may be indicated by memory loss, language difficulty, movement issues, poor judgment, hallucinations, and mood issues.

The symptoms can be highly variable, and may indicate issues other than brain atrophy.


Brain Atrophy Diagnosis

Actual diagnosis of brain atrophy requires an MRI or CT scan. Doctors may order these if they suspect brain atrophy based off of symptoms. You may also get a brain scan after a stroke or a traumatic brain injury.


Brain Atrophy Medications

Brain atrophy is not typically reversible, and treatment often includes counseling and physical and speech therapy. The brain has to be retrained to work around the damaged part.

Medications might be indicated to treat the underlying condition causing the brain atrophy or, in some cases (such as Parkinson’s) to replace hormones not being produced by the brain. If you have had a stroke, then you will likely need blood pressure medication to reduce the risk of a repeat stroke that will cause even more damage, and blood pressure medication reduces the risk of brain atrophy after a stroke. You may also need medication to treat other risk factors, such as high cholesterol or type 2 diabetes.


Receive Specialized Stroke Treatment in Singapore

While progressive diseases and stroke may be devastating, the support of loved ones and a specialized stroke clinic in Singapore like Supreme Vascular and Interventional Clinic is by your side. If you have had a stroke and are experiencing cognitive impairment or other signs of brain atrophy, such as seizures, our clinic can help. Contact us to schedule an appointment today with our neurointervention and stroke specialist, Dr. Manish Taneja, to take the next step in your stroke healing and recovery journey with our stroke screening, management, and prevention programs.

Stroke Prevention Tips: How to Avoid High Cholesterol

Controllable risk factors are lifestyle choices that can be changed to reduce the risk of having a stroke including managing your cholesterol.

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Supreme Vascular and Interventional Stroke Programs

Other Health Conditions

The Supreme Vascular and Interventional Clinic is your “go-to” facility for various conditions and treatments. To arrange an appointment with Dr. Manish Taneja, our neurointervention specialist, contact us. You can also call us at (+65) 6904 8084 for a consultation.