Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease history and symptoms

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]



Symptoms usually begin in late childhood or early adulthood. Usually, the initial symptom is foot drop due to involvement of the peroneal nerve, which is responsible for raising the feet, early in the course of the disease. This can also cause hammer toe, where the toes are always curled. Wasting of muscle tissue of the lower parts of the legs may give rise to "stork leg" or "inverted bottle" appearance. Weakness in the hands and forearms occurs in many people later in life as the disease progresses.

Symptoms and progression of the disease can vary. Breathing can be affected in some; so can hearing, vision, and the neck and shoulder muscles. Scoliosis is common. Hip sockets can be malformed. Gastrointestinal problems can be part of CMT, as can chewing, swallowing, and speaking (as vocal cords atrophy). A tremor can develop as muscles waste.

Nerves that stimulate movement (called the motor nerves) are most severely affected. The nerves in the legs are affected first and most severely.

Symptoms usually begin between mid-childhood and early adulthood. They may include:

  • Foot deformity (very high arch to feet)
  • Foot drop (inability to hold foot horizontal)
  • Loss of lower leg muscle, which leads to skinny calves
  • Numbness in the foot or leg
  • "Slapping" gait (feet hit the floor hard when walking)
  • Weakness of the hips, legs, or feet

Later, similar symptoms may appear in the arms and hands, which may include a claw-like hand.

Pregnancy has been known to exacerbate CMT, as well as extreme emotional stress. About the chemotherapy drug vincristine, the Charcot-Marie-Tooth Association classifies the drug as a Definite High Risk and states that vincristine has been proven hazardous and should be avoided by all CMT patients, including those with no symptoms.[1]


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