What Is Olivopontocerebellar Atrophy?
Olivopontocerebellar atrophy (OPA) is an uncommon but serious
neurological disorder. It causes nerve tissue degeneration and atrophy in the brain.
Doctors believe that OPA is similar to a multiple system atrophy (MSA)
disorder. Different MSA disorders occur in different sites within the brain.
OPA shares many symptoms with MSA disorders. One common symptom is
ataxia. Ataxia is a difficulty in controlling your muscle movements for gait. Diagnosing
OPA can be challenging because so many of the symptoms mirror those of MSA
Neurological disorders also share symptoms with OPA. For example,
Parkinson’s disease can look similar to OPA. Some of the shared symptoms
include tremors and balance problems. Diagnostic imaging tests help neurologists
look for areas of damage and diagnose disorders.
There’s no cure for OPA. Doctors are able to offer treatment that
helps patients live as long as possible. The life expectancy for people with
OPA differs because brains degenerate at different rates.
Who Is at Risk for Olivopontocerebellar
Risk factors depend upon the type of OPA. People with a family
history of OPA are at risk for inheriting the condition. On the other hand, people
with no family history of OPA may also acquire the disease due to occupational
and environmental factors. One risk factor is close contact with certain
What Are the Causes of Olivopontocerebellar
There’s no known cause for OPA. However, OPA does seem to pass
through families. The disease can also appear suddenly where there’s no family
history of the disease.
Some doctors believe that environmental contact with certain
materials or chemicals can lead to OPA. For example, someone with no family
history of OPA can acquire it late in life because of what they’ve come into
contact with. Chemicals such as carbon disulfide and carbon dioxide have been
shown to contribute to the development of OPA.
OPA is known to affect people for the first time when they are in
their 50s. The fact that the disease attacks older people supports the
environmental contact theory. By the time people reach their 50s, they have come
into contact with many chemicals found in food, plastic, and makeup.
What Are the Symptoms of
OPA causes symptoms common to many neurological disorders. The
most well-known symptom is ataxia. Ataxia appears as difficulties in
controlling deliberate muscle movement. People who have ataxia may believe they
are simply being clumsy. However, their clumsiness is actually a warning sign
of their OPA.
Some of the more common symptoms of OPA may also include:
- tremor (shaking in the hands)
- bradykinesia (a slowness in the start of motion)
- slurred speech
- balance problems (such as weaving side to side
when you walk)
- muscle spasms
- muscle stiffness and rigidity
- nerve damage (neuropathy)
- abnormal, involuntary eye movements
- bowel or bladder problems
- difficulty swallowing
People with the inherited form of OPA tend to see symptoms
earlier than those with the acquired form.
How Is Olivopontocerebellar Atrophy
Doctors use diagnostic tests and review your symptoms to diagnose
OPA. Doctors will often consult with neurologists when they see signs of a
Neurologists look at neurological signals and make a decision
about the cause. Symptoms aren’t always enough, so they may order images of the
Neurological disorders that occur with OPA include Parkinson’s
disease. This disease is a nerve disorder that causes shaking of the hands.
Imaging tests used for OPA include:
- CT scans: cross-sectional, detailed X-rays that
show brain damage
- MRI: imaging technique that uses radio waves to
show detailed images of the structure of organs
What Are the Treatments for
Because there’s no cure for OPA, doctors focus treatments on
lessening symptoms and helping you remain self-sufficient for as long as
Treatments for OPA include:
- anti-tremor medications, such as Levadopa
- walking aids, such as canes or walkers
- mechanical wheelchairs
- occupational therapy
Occupational and physical therapists can create exercise and
stretching routines that will help you keep your balance and strength for as
long as possible.
You should also learn techniques to help you swallow your food so
that your nutrition doesn’t suffer. Loss of ability to swallow food can also
lead to choking.
What Is the Long-Term Outlook?
People with OPA will lose more of their bodily skills as the
disease progresses. Doctors can help reduce symptoms. Physical and occupational
therapists help you live without assistance from a caretaker.
Reduced mobility and loss of individual control can be difficult
to deal with. Support from friends and family is crucial to the emotional
wellbeing of someone with OPA. You may also benefit from joining a support
group if you or a loved one has OPA. Speak with your doctor about the availability
of a support group in your area.