What Is Balo’s Disease?

Most doctors think of Balo’s disease as a rare form of multiple sclerosis (MS). MS attacks and damages tissue in your brain and spinal cord, which causes lesions (areas of inflamed tissue). Balo’s disease damages that tissue, too, and it causes lesions in your brain and spinal cord.

The difference is that the lesions caused by MS look like blotches or spots, but the ones caused by Balo’s disease look like bull's-eye marks. Because of this, Balo’s disease is sometimes known as Balo’s concentric sclerosis -- the bull's-eye-shaped scars are concentric rings.

Another difference between the two conditions is that many people who have MS have periods of time when their symptoms let up. But most people who have Balo’s disease don’t get a break from their symptoms, and their health gets worse over time.

Balo’s disease is most common among Asian people, especially people from China and the Philippines. Adults are more likely to get it than children, and it can affect both men and women. People often get the disease in their 30s.

Symptoms

Many signs of Balo’s disease are similar to MS symptoms. They can include:

  • Headaches
  • Seizures
  • Muscle pain and spasms
  • Muscle weakness
  • Paralysis over time
  • Trouble speaking
  • Trouble thinking or understanding others
  • Changes in behavior

Causes

Doctors aren’t sure what triggers Balo’s disease. They think it’s a type of autoimmune condition, which is when your body mistakenly attacks healthy tissue and makes it swollen or inflamed.

Some people who get Balo’s disease have an illness with a high fever and severe headaches right before they notice other symptoms. Because of this, doctors think it may be linked to an infection, though no one knows for sure.

Diagnosis

Because Balo’s disease is very rare, it’s best to see a doctor who specializes in problems of the brain and nervous system (a neurologist).

He’ll ask about your medical history and your symptoms. He’ll also give you a physical exam to see how well you move and if some of your muscles are weaker than others. And he’ll check to see how good your memory is and how well you speak.

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He’ll probably also recommend a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of your brain and spinal cord to check for lesions. That uses powerful magnets and radio waves to make detailed pictures of the inside of your body.

You also may have blood tests to check for an infection, or your doctor may take a small amount of spinal fluid from your lower back for testing.

In some cases, your doctor might suggest an evoked potential (EP) test. A technician will put small patches on your scalp that connect wires to a machine that measures the activity in your brain. She’ll then ask you to watch, listen, or feel certain things (like light patterns, a series of clicks, or short electrical bursts) and see how your brain responds to them.

Treatment

There is no cure for Balo’s disease, and no medications have been designed to treat it. Your doctor may prescribe some of the same drugs used to treat MS along with steroids (corticosteroids) to help with swelling in your brain and spinal cord tissue. You also may get medicine to help ease pain or muscle problems, like weakness or spasms.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on February 17, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: “Balo’s disease,” “Definition of MS,” “Evoked Potentials,” “Symptoms and diagnosis of Balo’s disease,” “Treatments of Balo’s disease,” “Types of MS.”

American Journal of Neuroradiology: “Balo's concentric sclerosis: Clinical and radiologic features of five cases.”

National Organization for Rare Disorders: “Balo disease.”

Case Reports in Neurology: “Balo's concentric sclerosis with acute presentation and co-existing multiple sclerosis-typical lesions on MRI.”

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