Basal ganglia calcification is when calcium deposits form in your brain. It can potentially cause a variety of neurological symptoms and can affect mood, perceptions, and behavior.

The basal ganglia is an area of your brain that’s involved in controlling movement. Health conditions that affect the basal ganglia can cause involuntary movements and difficulty controlling movement. Basal ganglia calcification (BGC) is one example. Other examples include Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.

BGC happens when calcium deposits form in the basal ganglia. There’s no cure, but treatment can help manage symptoms.

This article reviews the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment for BGC.

BGC includes different neurological disorders in which calcium deposits develop in the basal ganglia, typically on both sides of the brain.

Some disorders that cause calcification in the basal ganglia can also cause calcification in other areas of the brain, including the cerebral cortex, hippocampus, and thalamus.

There are two general types of BGC:

  • Primary BGC results from genetic changes and may also be called Fahr disease.
  • Secondary BGC is associated with an underlying health condition and may also be called Fahr syndrome.

Overall, BGC is rare. However, the exact prevalence isn’t known. Previous research has found incidental evidence of BGC in 0.3–1.2% of brain CT scans.

Can basal ganglia calcification cause stroke?

Stroke is a possible complication of BGC. Some research has found that BGC is common in people suspected of having an ischemic stroke.

However, the link between BGC and stroke hasn’t been clearly determined. Because calcifications can form in and around blood vessels, it’s possible that associated inflammation may reduce or block blood flow, leading to an ischemic stroke.

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The symptoms of BGC can vary in severity. Some people may have no symptoms, while others may have very severe symptoms.

Generally, BGC symptoms can be divided into two categories: neurological and neuropsychiatric.

Neurological symptoms

Neurological symptoms can include:

Neuropsychiatric symptoms

The neuropsychiatric symptoms of BGC can include:

There are many ways BGC can develop. One way involves changes in your body’s absorption and excretion of heavy metals, such as iron, and free radicals.

Calcification generally happens in and around blood vessels and spreads to involve nearby nerve cells. Additionally, calcium deposits and inflammation can restrict blood flow in your brain, resulting in further damage to nerve cells.

The possible causes of BGC often depend on whether you have primary or secondary BGC.

Primary BGC

Primary BGC is caused by genetic changes. Some changes may happen randomly, while others may be inherited from parents in an autosomal manner:

  • Autosomal dominant inheritance means you need only one copy of an affected gene to have a condition.
  • Autosomal recessive inheritance means you need two copies of an affected gene (one from each parent) to have a condition.

Most inherited cases of BGC are autosomal dominant, but there are also less common autosomal recessive variants of the condition.

Symptoms of primary BGC typically begin at age 40–60 years. You may have a higher risk of developing this type of BGC if you have a close family member with a primary BGC diagnosis.

Secondary BGC

Secondary BGC is associated with other health conditions, including:

The onset of secondary BGC typically happens at age 30–40 years.

To diagnose BGC, a doctor will get a detailed medical history and do a physical exam.

Neurological tests

A doctor will perform a neurological exam to assess your:

  • movement
  • reflexes
  • coordination
  • balance
  • senses
  • mental status

Lab tests (blood and urine)

To determine what’s causing your symptoms, a doctor may order the following laboratory tests:

Imaging scans

Healthcare professionals can use imaging to see the calcifications in your brain. They may perform a CT scan or an MRI scan.

If your doctor has ruled out secondary causes of BGC, they may order a blood test to see whether you have genetic changes linked to primary BGC.

There’s no cure for BGC. Instead, treatment focuses on managing symptoms.

Medications that may be used to help with symptoms include:

Additional interventions for managing the symptoms of BGC can include physical therapy, occupational therapy, and psychotherapy.

If you have secondary BGC, your doctor will also work to address the underlying health condition that’s contributing to the calcifications.

The outlook for BGC can vary for each person and may be hard to predict. Calcifications may worsen over time, which can worsen symptoms as well.

BGC happens when calcium deposits build up in the basal ganglia and sometimes other parts of your brain. It can cause a variety of neurological and neuropsychiatric symptoms.

BGC can be either primary or secondary. Primary BGC is the result of genetic changes, while secondary BGC is related to the effects of another underlying health condition.

There’s no cure for BGC. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and addressing underlying health conditions, if any are present.