What is Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease?
Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease is an inherited nerve defect that causes abnormalities
in the nerves that supply your feet, legs, hands, and arms. It affects both your motor
and sensory nerves. Motor nerves carry signals from your brain to your muscles, telling
them to move. Sensory nerves carry sensations, such as heat, cold, and pain back to
your brain. Charcot-Marie-Tooth is considered a peripheral neuropathy because it affects
nerves outside of your brain and spinal cord.
This disease is named after the 3 doctors who first described the disease in 1886.
It is one of the most common types of inherited nerve diseases.
What causes Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease?
Charcot-Marie-Tooth is almost always caused by a gene defect inherited from one or
both parents. The genetic information that one or both of your parents passes on to
you determines the type of gene mutation you have. This gene mutation determines what
symptoms you have and how old you are when they start.
Some genetic defects affect the axon, the part of the nerve that sends signals to
other nerves. Other genetic defects affect the protective lining around the axon,
called the myelin sheath. Either type of defect can lead to long-term damage of the
nerve and affect its ability to send signals.
What are the symptoms of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease?
Charcot-Marie-Tooth symptoms may vary from person to person, though they usually start
in your feet and legs. Over time, the disease may also affect your hands and arms.
Symptoms usually first appear in teens and young adults.
Common symptoms include:
- Weakness of your foot and lower leg muscles
- Foot deformities, including a high arch and bent toes (hammer toes)
- Difficulty lifting your foot while walking (foot drop)
- Loss of muscle around your hands and feet
- Numbness, tingling, burning, or loss of temperature sensation in your hands and feet
- Discomfort or pain in your hands and feet
How is Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease diagnosed?
A specialist called a neurologist may diagnose Charcot-Marie-Tooth after doing a complete
neurological exam and asking about your family history. Tests that help make the diagnosis
If you have no family history of this disease, your healthcare provider may consider
looking for other causes of your symptoms.
How is Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease treated?
There is no cure for Charcot-Marie-Tooth, but these treatment options can help:
- Physical therapy to strengthen and stretch your muscles. This may help prevent or delay disability
caused by weakness and deformity.
- Occupational therapy to help with your daily activities. This includes using special devices like rubber
grips, or changing from buttons and zippers to Velcro.
- Orthopedic devices like ankle braces, high-top boots, and thumb splints.
- Pain medicines if needed.
What are the complications of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease?
Charcot-Marie-Tooth is not a fatal disease, and most people live to a normal age and
remain active. In rare cases, it may affect the muscles you need to breathe. Because
this can be especially dangerous at night, you may need a nighttime breathing assistive
More common complications include:
- Injuries from falls
- Worsening of the disease that certain prescription drugs can cause
- Injuries or infections of the feet that go unnoticed because of lack of pain and temperature
Living with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
It is very important to learn as much as you can about your disease, and work closely
with your neurologist. Genetic counseling may be important for family planning. Other
ways to manage your disease include:
- Getting regular low-impact aerobic exercise
- Avoiding alcohol except in moderation
- Eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight
- Checking your feet regularly for any injury or infection
- Certain prescription drugs can worsen symptoms, so when taking a new prescription
drug for the first time, check with your healthcare professional about any possible
effects on your condition.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
- If you have been diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, talk with your healthcare
provider about when you might need to call them. They will likely advise you to call
if you have: Any new or worsening symptoms
- Signs of foot injury or infection
- Trouble breathing
- Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease is an inherited disorder that affects the nerves supplying
the feet, legs, hands, and arms. It is caused by gene defects that are nearly always
inherited from a person's parents.
- Symptoms often begin in the teen or early adult years and can include weakness in
the feet and legs and foot deformities. Over time, the hands and arms might be affected
- Charcot-Marie-Tooth can't be cured at this time, but treatments such as physical and
occupational therapy can often be very helpful. Most people with this condition live
to a normal age and remain active.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also
know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that
- Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.