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Chronic White Matter Disease

By Chris Sherwood ; Updated July 27, 2017

White matter is the space in your head between the neurons around the brain and spinal cord. White matter disease is any disease that affects this matter. When white matter disease becomes chronic, it means that the affecting disease is either recurrent, or has been present for an extended period of time, making it more noticeable.


White matter disease is usually diagnosed during a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan or a computer tomography (CT) scan. Both of these pieces of equipment are able to project any abnormalities of the white matter in the brain onto the taken image. However, abnormalities in the white matter of the brain are common occurrences with a host of different disorders, so more testing must be done to determine actual cause.


There are many diseases that can cause white matter disease. Most commonly white matter issues are seen with diabetes, high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, and high blood pressure. It can also be seen leading up to, or after major events such as a stroke.

Blood Vessels

Most chronic white matter disease manifests through damage on the small blood vessels surrounding the matter itself. These blood vessels help keep the white matter of your brain irrigated. This is why most chronic white matter disease is caused by disorders that specifically target the blood vessels. Over time diseases such as atherosclerosis and high blood pressure take their toll on the smaller blood vessels first, such as the ones responsible for irrigating the white matter. The damage to these blood vessels is what causes white matter disease.


Small amounts of white matter disease appear in everyone as they age. However, large areas of white matter disease, as seen with chronic white matter disease, are often warning signs of more serious conditions such as multiple sclerosis or Alzheimer's disease. Progressive amounts of white matter disease can also be a warning sign for stroke.


Since large areas of white matter disease in the brain can be a sign of serious problems to come, it is important to take appropriate action to help prevent future damage to the blood vessels in your body. Exercising regularly, taking steps to lower your cholesterol through diet, and making healthy life decisions such as stopping smoking and limiting alcohol intake, are all actions that can help stop the spread of chronic white matter disease. This in turn can substantially lower your risks of stroke and other problems related to blood vessel disorders.

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