The initial symptom of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) is rapidly progressive dementia, resulting in loss of memory, alterations in personality and hallucinations. Physical problems, such as jerky movements, defective speech, ataxia (coordination and balance problems), alterations in gait, rigid postures and seizures usually accompany the cognitive impairments.
In some patients signs and symptoms can persist for years, while in many cases of non-inherited (sporadic) CJD, death occurs not long after the first symptoms emerge.
Meaning of signs and symptoms - the patient feels and describes a symptom, while other people, including the physician or nurse detect a sign. For example, headache may be a symptoms while dilated pupils may be a sign.
CJD signs and symptoms and the disease's rates of progression vary depending on the type of CJD and the person. In all cases, signs and symptoms follow this general pattern:
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The affected individual may strongly believe things that are clearly not true (delusions), or may hear or see things that are not there (hallucinations), especially those with vCJD (variant CJD).
There may be pain, tingling or numbness in certain parts of the body - examples of damage to the nervous system.
Within a period of a few weeks symptoms get rapidly worse, and memory loss and confusion become more severe.
Later stages - confusion and memory loss get worse, coordination problems become more severe. Some patients lose their eyesight.
Within months the individual cannot walk or talk anymore. They will become unaware of what is around them and will need round-the-clock care. Their jerky movements will become more frequent and pronounced.
The majority of patients lapse into a coma. According to the National Health Service (NHS), UK, approximately 75% of patients with CJD die within six months. Heart failure, respiratory failure, pneumonia or other infections are the most common causes of death. Some may die within weeks. The average survival period after initial diagnosis is just over one year.
Written by Christian Nordqvist