Krabbe Disease

Disease database

Krabbe disease, also known as globoid cell leukodystrophy, is a rare and devastating genetic disorder that affects the nervous system. It is caused by a deficiency of an enzyme called galactocerebrosidase, which leads to the accumulation of toxic substances in the brain and other tissues. This buildup results in the destruction of the protective covering of nerve cells, known as myelin, leading to a range of symptoms and complications.

Muscle Weakness

One of the hallmark symptoms of Krabbe disease is muscle weakness. Infants with the disease may have difficulty holding up their heads, sitting, or crawling. As the disease progresses, muscle weakness can become more severe, leading to difficulties with walking and mobility.


Seizures are another common symptom of Krabbe disease. These seizures can vary in severity and may present as jerking movements, loss of consciousness, or staring spells. Seizures can be distressing for both the individual with the disease and their caregivers.

Developmental Delay

Krabbe disease often causes developmental delay, meaning that affected individuals may not reach developmental milestones at the expected age. This can include delays in speech and language development, cognitive abilities, and motor skills.

Vision Loss

As the disease progresses, individuals with Krabbe disease may experience vision loss. This can range from mild visual impairment to complete blindness. Regular eye examinations are important for monitoring and managing any changes in vision.


Hearing loss is another common complication of Krabbe disease. It can occur gradually over time and may require the use of hearing aids or other assistive devices to improve communication and quality of life.


Many individuals with Krabbe disease experience irritability and changes in behavior. This can manifest as increased crying, difficulty sleeping, and general discomfort. Managing irritability can be challenging for caregivers, and support from healthcare professionals is essential.

Feeding Difficulties

Krabbe disease can also affect an individual’s ability to eat and swallow. Feeding difficulties may arise due to muscle weakness, coordination problems, or oral motor dysfunction. It is important to work with a healthcare team to ensure adequate nutrition and hydration.

Stiffness and Spasticity

Stiffness and spasticity are common symptoms of Krabbe disease. These can make movement and mobility more challenging and may require the use of assistive devices such as braces or wheelchairs. Physical therapy and stretching exercises can help manage these symptoms.


In severe cases of Krabbe disease, paralysis may occur. This can result in the loss of voluntary muscle control and the ability to move independently. Supportive care and assistive devices are crucial for maintaining quality of life in individuals with paralysis.

Treatment and Management

Currently, there is no cure for Krabbe disease. However, there are treatment options available to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. These may include:

  • Physical therapy to maintain muscle strength and mobility
  • Occupational therapy to improve daily living skills
  • Speech therapy to address communication difficulties
  • Medications to manage seizures and irritability
  • Hearing aids or cochlear implants for individuals with hearing loss
  • Nutritional support to address feeding difficulties

It is important for individuals with Krabbe disease to receive comprehensive and multidisciplinary care from a team of healthcare professionals. This may include neurologists, geneticists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and social workers.

While there is no cure for Krabbe disease, ongoing research and advancements in gene therapy offer hope for future treatments. Gene therapy aims to replace the faulty gene responsible for the enzyme deficiency, potentially halting or slowing the progression of the disease.

In conclusion, Krabbe disease is a rare genetic disorder that affects the nervous system and leads to a range of symptoms and complications. Muscle weakness, seizures, developmental delay, vision loss, deafness, irritability, feeding difficulties, stiffness, spasticity, and paralysis are all common features of the disease. While there is currently no cure, treatment options are available to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. Ongoing research in gene therapy provides hope for future advancements in the treatment of Krabbe disease.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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