Charcot Marie Tooth
Charcot-Marie-Tooth, or CMT, is the most commonly inherited peripheral neuropathy and is found worldwide among all races and ethnic groups. Discovered in 1886 by three physicians, Jean-Martin Charcot, Pierre Marie, and Howard Henry Tooth, CMT affects an estimated 2.6 million people.
Non-Contagious, Non-Fatal, Inherited Disease
CMT usually isn’t life-threatening and almost never affects brain function. It is not contagious, but it is hereditary and can be passed down from one generation to the next.
CMT affects the peripheral nerves, those groups of nerve cells carrying information to and from the spinal cord. CMT decreases the ability of these nerves to carry motor commands to muscles, especially those furthest from the spinal cord located in the feet and hands. As a result, the muscles connected to these nerves eventually weaken. CMT also affects the sensory nerves that carry information from the limbs to the brain. Therefore, people with CMT also have sensory loss. This loss causes symptoms such as not being able to tell if something is hot or cold or having difficulties with balance.
CMT patients slowly lose normal use of their extremities as nerves degenerate and muscles weaken because the affected nerves no longer stimulate the muscles. Many patients also have some loss of sensory nerve functions.
The first symptoms are usually problems with the feet such as high arches and problems with walking and running. Tripping while walking and sprained ankles are common. Muscle loss in the feet and calves leads to foot drop in which the foot does not lift high enough off the ground when walking. Complaints of cold legs are common, as are cramps in the legs, especially after exercise. Most children with CMT remain able to walk throughout their lives.
In many people, the fingers and hands eventually become affected. Muscle loss in the hands can make fine movements such as working buttons and zippers difficult. Some patients develop tremor in the upper limbs. Loss of sensation can cause problems such as numbness and the inability to feel if something is hot or cold.
CMT doesn’t have a cure, although physical therapy, occupational therapy, and moderate physical activity are beneficial. Sometimes CMT is surgically treated.