Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

Creutzfeldt-Jakob (KROITS-felt YAH-kobe) disease is a degenerative brain disorder that leads to dementia and, ultimately, death. Symptoms of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) sometimes resemble those of other dementia-like brain disorders, such as Alzheimer's, but Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease usually progresses much more rapidly.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease captured public attention in the 1990s when some people in the United Kingdom developed a form of the disease — variant CJD (vCJD) — after eating meat from diseased cattle. However, "classic" Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease has not been linked to contaminated beef.

Although serious, CJD is rare, and vCJD is the least common form. Worldwide, there is an estimated one case of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease diagnosed per million people each year, most commonly in older adults.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is marked by rapid mental deterioration, usually within a few months. Initial signs and symptoms of CJD typically include:

  • Personality changes
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • Impaired thinking
  • Blurred vision
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Sudden, jerky movements

As the disease progresses, mental symptoms worsen. Most people eventually lapse into a coma. Heart failure, respiratory failure, pneumonia or other infections are generally the cause of death. The disease usually runs its course in about seven months, although a few people may live up to one or two years after diagnosis.

In people with the rarer vCJD, psychiatric symptoms may be more prominent in the beginning, with dementia — the loss of the ability to think, reason and remember — developing later in the course of the illness. In addition, this variant affects people at a younger age than classic CJD does, and appears to have a slightly longer duration — 12 to 14 months.

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