Cerebral Atrophy

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What is cerebral atrophy?

Cerebral atrophy—the loss of nerve cells (neurons) and the connections that help them communicate in the brain's tissues—occurs in many disorders that affect the brain, such as stroke, Alzheimer's, disease, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, or infections. Atrophy of the brain can affect different areas, depending on the disease involved.

Atrophy can be generalized, which affects cells all over the brain and shrinks it, or focal, which affects cells in some regions of the brain and decreases function those areas control. If the two lobes in the brain that form the cerebrum, known as the cerebral hemisphere, are affected, conscious thought and voluntary processes may be impaired.

The symptoms of cerebral atrophy vary depending on which area of the brain is affected. Depending on the disease or disorder causing the cerebral atrophy, symptoms can include:

  • Dementia (the loss of the ability to think, reason, or remember to the extent that it interferes with a person's daily life and activities)
  • Disorientation
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty communicating
  • Memory loss
  • Loss of coordination
  • Localized weakness, loss of sensation, or paralysis
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Disturbances in speaking and understanding language (aphasia)

Some conditions that cause cerebral atrophy are progressive, while others may be manageable. Each condition that causes atrophy is treated differently, either with medications, surgery, or antibiotics.

Learn About Clinical Trials
Clinical trials are studies that allow us to learn more about disorders and improve care. They can help connect patients with new and upcoming treatment options.

How can I or my loved one help improve care for people with cerebral atrophy?

Consider participating in a clinical trial so clinicians and scientists can learn more about cerebral atrophy and other disorders. Clinical research uses human volunteers to help researchers learn more about a disorder and perhaps find better ways to safely detect, treat, or prevent disease.

All types of volunteers are needed—those who are healthy or may have an illness or disease—of all different ages, sexes, races, and ethnicities to ensure that study results apply to as many people as possible, and that treatments will be safe and effective for everyone who will use them.

For information about participating in clinical research visit NIH Clinical Research Trials and You. Learn about clinical trials currently looking for people with cerebral atrophy at Clinicaltrials.gov, a database of current and past clinical studies and research results.

Where can I find more information about cerebral atrophy?

Information may be available from the following resource:


Order publications from the NINDS Catalog
The NINDS Publication Catalog offers printed materials on neurological disorders for patients, health professionals, and the general public. All materials are free of charge, and a downloadable PDF version is also available for most publications.