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White Matter Disease : Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

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White matter disease refers to the damage to the brain’s white matter due to decreased blood supply to the area. It may result in memory, balance, and mobility problems. White matter illness is more likely to occur in those at increased risk for cardiovascular disease. The blog explains white matter disease, its symptoms, and treatment options.

What is white matter? 

The brain’s white matter comprises an extensive network of nerve fibres (axons) that facilitate communication and information exchange between various brain regions. As the nerve fibres are protected by a sheath known as myelin, which gives the tissue its white hue, it is known as white matter. Grey matter, which derives its colour from the cell bodies of neurons, is found in the brain’s surface and deep regions. The white matter needs adequate blood flow and nutrients to remain healthy. 

What is white matter disease?

White matter illness is the deterioration of tissue in the brain’s largest and deepest section, mainly due to ageing. Millions of nerve fibres, or axons, found in this tissue connect to various brain and spinal cord regions and instruct the nerves to communicate with one another. The fibres are shielded by a fatty substance called myelin, which also gives white matter its colour. 

This particular form of brain tissue aids quick thinking and upright gait and prevents falls. Reduced blood flow (ischemia) and nutrients to the white matter can damage axons (nerve fibres) including swelling, breaking and complete loss. Older or elderly adults are more susceptible to white matter illness. 

What are the causes of white matter disease? 

The white matter can change due to numerous diseases, injuries, and poisons.. Some of the causes are: 

  • Smoking 
  • Persistently elevated blood pressure 
  • Ongoing inflammation of the blood vessels 

Additionally, people are at an increased risk if they have the following: 

What are the symptoms of white matter disease? 

White matter in the brain aids with focus and problem-solving. Additionally, it significantly impacts walking, balance, and mood. Thus, one may notice the following signs when something is wrong with that part: 

  • Problem remembering or learning new things 
  • Difficulty solving problems 
  • Depression 
  • Difficulty walking 
  • Balance problems and falling more often 
  • Sluggish thinking
  •  Urinary incontinence

Alzheimer’s disease, which affects the brain’s grey matter, is distinct from white matter disease. A doctor will need to perform tests to make a diagnosis if one is experiencing memory problems. 

What are the diagnostic techniques for white matter disease? 

Medical imaging developments have made it simpler to detect white matter disorders. Any damage can be seen by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In an MRI scan, changes to the white matter appear as extremely bright white. To rule out other factors, one may need more tests. 

As white matter disease is linked with the risk factors of cardiovascular disease, your doctor may also order the following blood tests to determine your risk:

  • Lipid panel 
  • Comprehensive metabolic panel
  • Glycosylated haemoglobin test (HbA1c)

What are the treatment options for white matter diseases? 

There is no particular course of action for treating a white matter disease. The aim is to address the underlying problem and prevent the illness from exacerbating further. The healthcare provider may recommend medications to decrease cholesterol or blood pressure. One may also need to stop smoking. 

Healthcare professionals mainly concentrate on symptom management and reducing cardiovascular disease risk factors. 

How are symptoms of the white matter disease treated? 

The following are the different ways the white matter disease is treated:

  • White matter disease may lead to balance and walking issues that may be treated with physical therapy, which often includes fall prevention education and rehabilitation. 
  • The symptoms of depression can be reduced by arranging therapy sessions with a psychologist about issues with low mood and by visiting a psychiatrist for prescriptions of antidepressants. 
  • The doctor can treat urinary incontinence with various methods, including medication, lifestyle modifications, and surgical procedures. 

How is white matter disease prevented? 

The progression of white matter disease can be slowed by managing the risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, which can also help prevent life-threatening cardiovascular disorders like stroke

The following treatments can help manage risk factors for cardiovascular disease: 

  • Exercising regularly
  • Avoiding tobacco use
  • Saying no to alcohol
  • Medication and lifestyle modifications to keep blood pressure within a healthy range
  • Diabetes management for diabetic patients
  • Decreasing the cholesterol level through medication and lifestyle adjustments
  • Consuming antithrombotic drugs (drugs that help stop blood cells from sticking together to form a blood clot


Prioritizing cardiovascular health is crucial if one has been diagnosed with white matter disease. It includes taking medications and altering the lifestyle to control blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Doing this can lessen the risk of developing new white matter issues, stroke, and dementia


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

Is it true that people with or at risk of cardiovascular diseases are at a higher risk of white matter diseases? 

Yes. According to studies, those at higher risk for cardiovascular illness are also more likely to acquire white matter disease. 

Verified By Apollo Neurologist
The content is medically reviewed and verified by highly qualified Neurologists who bring extensive experience as well as their perspective from years of clinical practice, research and patient care
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