Balo’s disease is considered a type of multiple sclerosis (MS). Similar to MS, the disease involves damage to myelin in the nervous system. Myelin is made of fatty substances that protect nerve fibers in your brain and spinal cord. It is essential for proper neurological function. Though demyelination happens in both MS and Balo’s disease, Balo’s disease is unique due to its circular-shaped damage to myelin. It is often considered a rare form of MS.
Balo’s disease is also called:
- Balo’s concentric (circular) sclerosis
- Balo disease
- leukoencephalitis periaxialis concentrica
- encephalitis periaxialis concentrica
Balo’s disease is an autoimmune disorder in which your body attacks its own healthy tissues. The body’s immune system is responsible for getting rid of unhealthy cells. But in Balo’s disease, your immune system attacks healthy cells, too. This attack results in inflammation (swelling), which is a feature of both MS and Balo’s disease. The exact cause of the disease is unknown. But factors that might increase your risk include:
- having a family history of autoimmune diseases
- having a parent with Balo’s disease
- being of Asian or Filipino descent
Neither gender nor age are considered risk factors for Balo’s disease. It is more common in adults, but children can also develop it. Balo’s disease affects men and women equally.
Despite some disagreement, most doctors consider Balo’s disease as a subtype of MS. It is not considered as one of the four main types of MS, but rather a rare form of the disorder. Balo’s is linked with MS because the two diseases share a wide range of similarities. They are similar in nature and symptoms. And they can be treated in the same ways, too. They’re both also characterized by inflammation.
Balo’s disease is different from MS because of the way it damages myelin in the central nervous system.
The most common symptoms of Balo’s disease are:
- muscle aches and spasms
- speaking difficulties
- memory loss
- difficulty remembering new things
In rare cases, Balo’s disease may persist without any symptoms at all.
The progression of Balo’s disease varies between patients. You may experience the symptoms in one of the following ways:
- a monophasic course characterized by a single attack
- relapses in between periods of no symptoms
- a rapid progression without a remission
Even the most rapid of Balo’s disease progressions can proceed over the course of several months. It’s important to remember that every patient is different, so it’s difficult to predict a precise timeline for the disease.
If you exhibit symptoms of Balo’s disease, your doctor can make a diagnosis with the help of a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test. With Balo’s, an MRI shows circular rings of damaged myelin in the brain and spinal cord. While myelin damage is a feature of other more common forms of MS, the circular, or concentric, nature of the damage is exclusive to Balo’s disease. The damage is often in the form of a pattern, alternating between damaged and undamaged myelin.
Your doctor may order other tests such as:
- spinal taps (lumbar punctures)
- mobility tests
- neurological exams
- evoked potential (EP) test to detect damage in the central nervous system
There are two ways to medically treat Balo’s disease. First, corticosteroid injections can reduce inflammation in the central nervous system. Prescription medications may alleviate some of the symptoms to increase your quality of life. Aside from medical treatment, your doctor may also recommend physical, speech, or occupational therapy for rehabilitation.
Like other common forms of MS, there is no known cure for Balo’s disease. Due to the unpredictability of the disease, it can be difficult to determine a prognosis. Balo’s can cause debilitation, and eventually even death. Current treatment measures reduce inflammation and alleviate symptoms, but no medication can stop the progression of the disease. Still, some patients survive Balo’s and even enter remission. The key to living well with the disease is to work with your doctor on the most comprehensive treatment plan as early as possible.
Balo’s disease is rare, and it’s one of the least common forms of MS. However, if you have MS, you are not likely to develop Balo’s disease.