Balo disease is a rare neurological disorder that causes muscle spasms and paralysis. Experts do not know if it shortens life expectancy. Its effects can vary significantly between people.

Another name for the condition is Baló concentric sclerosis. Some experts consider it a form of multiple sclerosis (MS), although this is controversial. Like MS, it is an inflammatory demyelinating disease. This term refers to conditions that damage the protective myelin sheath surrounding nerve fibers of the central nervous system (CNS).

However, Balo disease is rapidly progressive, unlike MS, which flares and subsides.

This article covers Balo disease, its symptoms, causes, and treatment.

An onion to represent the appearance of the brain lesion associated with Balo disease -1.Share on Pinterest
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As with MS, most people experience a gradual onset of symptoms across 2–3 years, although some may progress rapidly over several weeks.

Individuals may experience a range of symptoms depending on the area of the brain the condition affects. These symptoms include:

In its most severe form, Balo disease also causes symptoms similar to an infectious disease, such as a high fever and painful headaches.

With MS, a person experiences relapsing episodes of symptoms that can vary in severity. However, Balo disease does not follow this pattern, so many experts question whether it is a subtype of MS.

Learn more about early MS symptoms.

Around 400,000 people in the United States are living with MS. However, because of the rarity of Balo disease, experts are unsure of its incidence rate. It appears to affect males more frequently than females, with affected ages spanning 4 to 56 and an average age of 36 years.

Experts do not know the cause of Balo disease. However, autoimmune factors could play a role in its development.

Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakenly identifies the body’s healthy tissues as a threat and launches an immune response against them. In theory, this reaction could trigger inflammation within the CNS and target the protective myelin sheath surrounding nerve fibers. The resulting demyelination can disrupt nerve signal transmissions or cause neurological symptoms.

A 2021 study reports that Balo disease could share a similar mechanism of injury or response to injury as MS.

Besides MS, some conditions that share similar symptoms with Balo disease include:

  • Adrenoleukodystrophy: This metabolic disease affects the myelin sheath of the brain’s nerve fibers.
  • Canavan’s leukodystrophy: This disease leads to a gradual degeneration of the CNS.
  • Metachromatic leukodystrophy: This condition leads to a fatty substance, known as sulfatides, accumulating in the CNS and other organs.
  • Krabbe’s leukodystrophy: This metabolic disease leads to a fatty substance, known as ceramide galactoside, accumulating in the brain
  • Alexander’s disease: This extremely rare condition affects the CNS.

Doctors may find it challenging to diagnose Balo disease, as its symptoms often overlap with those of other neurological conditions.

Neurologists typically conduct a thorough assessment to differentiate Balo disease from similar disorders. This includes:

  • a clinical evaluation
  • MRI scans
  • cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis

Balo disease features unique lesion characteristics that doctors can see on MRI scans, including tumefactive lesions. These brain lesions are more than 2 centimeters wide and cause swelling and pressure. Also, alternating layers of myelinated and demyelinated neurons give a characteristic onion-like appearance to the brain’s white matter.

No standardized treatment plan currently exists for Balo disease. This is likely because the condition is so rare.

Managing Balo disease usually involves corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and suppress the immune response. Other treatments may help some individuals, although strong evidence of their benefits is lacking. They include:

Doctors can also prescribe treatments to relieve symptoms such as pain, weakness, or muscle issues.

There is limited information regarding the long-term outlook for those with Balo disease.

Generally, the outlook for people with the condition varies widely, but it appears to relate to the timing of diagnosis. Therefore, earlier identification and treatment of lesions tend to improve the outlook.

The severity and progression of Balo disease can vary from person to person. For some, it is more severe and progressive, while for others, it involves a milder course with periods of remission.

A person’s overall health can also contribute to their outlook.

There is no clear evidence that Balo disease shortens someone’s life, but it could. Experts must learn more about this rare disease to understand this factor fully.

People who receive a Balo disease diagnosis and treatment early can live for many years, even up to 14 years or more. However, for some, it can be much shorter. This paper also cited 2004 research on 17 people with Balo disease. The research stated that these individuals died between 5 days and 8 months following diagnosis.

However, as diagnostic technologies and treatments improve, there is hope that the overall outlook and life expectancy for individuals with Balo disease will improve.

Balo disease is a rare neurological disorder with similarities to multiple sclerosis. Doctors may find it challenging to diagnose it, as its symptoms often overlap with other neurological conditions. Treatment centers on corticosteroids and medications tend to ease symptoms.

While experts have not determined whether Balo disease shortens life expectancy definitively, its effects can vary significantly from person to person. Early diagnosis and timely treatment have links to more favorable outcomes, allowing some individuals to live for many years after diagnosis. However, Balo disease can also progress rapidly, sometimes leading to shorter survival times.

As diagnostic techniques and treatments advance, there is optimism for improved outcomes for those with this complex condition.