Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) is a type of rapidly progressive brain disorder known as prion disease. Prion disease is very rare and affects about one in every one million people per year. Symptoms of CJD typically develop around age 60 and can include trouble with memory along with changes in behavior, vision, and coordination. As the disease progresses, the severity of the symptoms increase.
The three variations of CJD are labeled as sporadic, hereditary, and acquired. Researchers believe the sporadic variation, which is most common, could be due to an incorrectly folded protein in the body, called an infectious prion. The prions clump together and cause damage to the brain, leading to the symptoms of CJD. The hereditary variation, which occurs much less often, is also caused by clumped prions. However, in the hereditary version, the abnormally folded prions are caused by a change (mutation) in the PRNP gene. The acquired variation of CJD is the least common and can occur when an individual comes in contact with the brain tissue or spinal fluid of an affective organism, such as eating the brain tissue of an affected cow (also known as mad cow disease). This variation accounts for about 1% of CJD cases.
Because CJD has symptoms similar to other forms of dementia, a doctor may attempt to rule out other conditions before suggesting a diagnosis of CJD. A medical professional may also perform a brain scan, such as an MRI, to look for changes in the brain tissue that are characteristic of CJD. The current treatments available for CJD focus on minimizing the symptoms associated with the disease. Researchers are trying to better understand what causes CJD in order to develop more effective treatments. If you or a family member has been diagnosed with CJD, talk with your doctor and specialists about the most current treatment options. Support groups are a good resource for additional information and support.