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Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy – causes, side effects and treatments at

Friday, July 27, 2018 by

Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) is a progressive viral disease of the central nervous system.

Patients with the disease get infected by a virus that attacks cells which produce myelin, the fatty substance that coats and protects nerve fibers in the brain. These fibers help conduct electrical signals to the rest of the body.

The viral disease is caused by the John Cunningham (JC) virus. The condition itself is rare, but the JC virus is very common. At least 85 percent of adults in the general population have the virus. Most people are infected with the virus during childhood.

A healthy immune system can keep the virus in check, and it often remains dormant in the bone marrow, kidneys, or lymph nodes for the rest of your life. The majority of people with the JC virus don’t develop PML. However, if your immune system becomes severely compromised, the virus can be reactivated. When this happens, it can reach your brain, where it will multiply and attack myelin.

Demyelination occurs when myelin is damaged and scar tissue forms. When lesions form after demyelination, the brain will have difficulty sending signals to other parts of the body.

Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy is a life-threatening condition, but it is also very uncommon. Only 4,000 individuals from both the U.S. and Europe combined develop PML annually.

Known symptoms of progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy

The symptoms of progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy may vary depending on the amount of damage in the brain.

PML can cause symptoms like:

  • Ataxia/clumsiness due to coordination loss
  • Cognitive and personality changes
  • Memory-related disorders
  • Paralysis
  • Progressive weakness, headaches
  • Seizures
  • Speech and vision defects, e.g., aphasia/loss of language capability

Risk factors for progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy may include:

  • Being on long-term corticosteroid or immunosuppressive therapy following an organ transplant
  • Having HIV-AIDS
  • Having Hodgkin’s disease, leukemia, lymphoma, or other cancers

Body systems harmed by progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy

Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy may cause the following complications:

  • Difficulty maintaining balance and coordination
  • Memory-related signs/symptoms
  • Progressive weakness of the body with complete paralysis
  • Speech defects with eventual aphasia/complete loss of speech

Food items or nutrients that may prevent progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy

The following foods or nutrients can help prevent progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy or address its symptoms:

  • Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) – Asian ginseng can help improve mental ability and stimulate the flow of blood. The herb can also help restructure the brain cells, which is crucial when sending messages to the entire body.
  • Brahmi (Centella asiatica– Brahmi has beneficial components like saponins, Asiatic acid, and betulic acid that can boost glutathione levels in the brain and minimize malondialdehyde levels. Brahmi also has anxiolytic and anti-depressant properties that can treat anxiety, epilepsy, and memory loss.
  • Chamomile – Chamomile can help prevent brain diseases because it contains apigenin that binds to the brain cells and produces a mild tranquilizing effect.
  • Holy basil – Holy basil leaves have antioxidant properties that can help address the symptoms of schizophrenia. Additionally, an herbal tea made from holy basil leaves can stimulate brain functionality.

Treatments, management plans for progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy

There is no cure for progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy and therapy will vary depending on the patient’s condition. Individuals with PML will also have to stop taking medications that affect their immune system.

Treatment aims to boost immune system function. Options can include:

  • Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) – This is recommended for patients who also have HIV-AIDS. HAART involves a combination of antiviral drugs that can minimize viral reproduction.
  • Plasma exchange – This method is done via a blood transfusion. The procedure helps clear a patient’s system of the drugs that caused PML so their immune system can fight the JC virus.

Treatment for PML can also include supportive and investigational therapies.

Where to learn more


Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) is a progressive viral disease of the central nervous system.

PML can cause symptoms like ataxia, memory-related disorders, paralysis, and seizures.

Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy may cause complications like difficulty maintaining balance and coordination, progressive weakness of the body with complete paralysis, and speech defects with eventual aphasia.

Asian ginseng, Brahmi, chamomile, and holy basil can help prevent progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy or address its symptoms.

There is no cure for progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy and therapy will vary per patient. Treatment for PML aims to boost immune system function. Options can include highly active antiretroviral therapy and plasma exchange.

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