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Locked-In Syndrome

What is Locked-In Syndrome?

Locked-in syndrome is a rare neurological disorder characterized by complete paralysis of voluntary muscles in all parts of the body except for those that control eye movement. It may result from traumatic brain injury, diseases of the circulatory system, diseases that destroy the myelin sheath surrounding nerve cells, or medication overdose. Individuals with locked-in syndrome are conscious and can think and reason, but are unable to speak or move. The disorder leaves individuals completely mute and paralyzed. Communication may be possible with blinking eye movements

Unlike persistent vegetative state, in which the upper portions of the brain are damaged and the lower portions are spared, locked-in syndrome is caused by damage to specific portions of the lower brain and brainstem with no damage to the upper brain.

Possible causes of locked-in syndrome include:

  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Diseases of the circulatory system
  • Medication overdose
  • Damage to nerve cells, particularly destruction of the myelin sheath, caused by disease (e.g.. central pontine myelinolysis secondary to rapid correction of hyponatremia)
  • A stroke or brain hemorrhage, usually of the basilar artery
    Treatment Locked-In Syndrome

Treatment of locked-in syndrome

There is no cure for locked-in syndrome, nor is there a standard course of treatment. A therapy called functional neuromuscular stimulation, which uses electrodes to stimulate muscle reflexes, may help activate some paralyzed muscles. Several devices to help communication are available. Other courses of treatment are often symptomatic.[9] Assistive computer interface technologies, such as Dasher in combination with eye tracking may be used to help patients communicate. New direct brain interface mechanisms may provide future remedies.[10][11] Israeli scientists have reported that they have developed a technique that allows locked-in patients to communicate via sniffin

What is the prognosis of Locked-In Syndrome?

The prognosis for those with locked-in syndrome is poor. The majority of individuals do not regain function.

What research is being done for Locked-In Syndrome?

The NINDS supports research on neurological disorders that can cause locked-in syndrome. The goals of this research are to find ways to prevent, treat, and cure these disorders. Select this link to view a list of studies currently seeking patients.


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