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:: How to recognise Neurocanthocytosis

The first signs of the diseases in the neuroacanthocytosis (NA) group are subtle and easily overlooked. Initial symptoms, which often occur in the person’s mid 20’s, may include grunts or tic noises made unconsciously in the throat, progressing to drooling and problems in controlling the tongue from ejecting food. Involuntary biting of the tongue, lips and/or cheeks may follow.

At the beginning there can be a general, slight physical awkwardness. Things on a shelf are knocked off for no apparent reason. Difficulty with walking and balance can also be early symptoms. Problems controlling trunk, leg and arm movements are often barely noticeable at the beginning, but become increasingly difficult as the disease progresses. Several patients find it difficult to sleep at night and others report fatigue and weakness.

Personality change may also be an early indication. The carefree young adult becomes obsessive-compulsive and uncharacteristically forgetful or just loses confidence or drive. Fainting or epileptic seizures may also occur. Mood changes may happen and a person often becomes isolated, in part out of embarrassment.

There are several reports of the problems beginning after a traumatic event including physical attack, unexpected failure of an exam and birth of a child.


A defining symptom that is not apparent is the spiky red blood cells, or acanthocytes, from which the NA disease group takes its name. These unusual blood cells can be observed with a microscope in some circumstances. Still more difficult to observe are the alterations or mutations in patients’ genes. Each of the NA group diseases has a different genetic characteristic that can be determined only by blood tests.

A person showing some of this pattern of symptoms should see a neurologist. Clinicians and patients can also visit for links to further scientific reports. Full details are also available on the free blood testing service offered by the Advocacy for Neuroacanthocytosis Patients, aimed at helping determine a definitive diagnosis for NA.

:: Useful NA Resources

  • Neuroacanthocytosis Syndromes II, published December 2007, the book provides a profound insight into recent developments within the field of neuroacanthocytosis syndromes. Edited by Ruth H. Walker, Shinji Saiki and Adrian Danek. Available at
  • A Western blot test for the presence of chorein in the membranes of red blood cells can be offered free of charge due to support of the Advocacy for Neuroacanthocytosis Patients'. Download instructions on the blood sampling and specimen shipment as a PDF or get more information on the method at PubMed
  • The entry for chorea acanthocytosis in GeneReviews is the most complete, readily available report on ChAc. Published by the University of Washington with the support of the National Institutes of Health
  • A dedicated Patient & Families Support Group at Yahoo Groups offers patients and families information, advice, support or just an understanding ear
  • Visit PubMed for access to NA research in English from the Medline database.
  • Search Google for the latest on NA
  • Visit the NA page on WeMove, the Movement Disorder Societies charitable and educational associate

:: is the website of the The Institute for Neuroacanthocytosis. It is the Advocacy's international centre for supporting patients and promoting clinical and basic research. The website provides access to resources found on the website.

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Patients: The Americas

Sanjay with his wife Seema and son and daughter
Sanjay with his wife Seema and son and daughter
Sanjay Madan writes from San Diego, California that he was diagnosed with ChAc in 2008. While he has difficulty with eating and walking he does exercise in the form of walks with many rests. He keeps his mind working by learning two words a day on the Wordsmart web site and playing quizzes at the Freerice web site. This site gives quiz questions where every correct answer donates 10 grains of rice through the UN World Food Program to help end hunger.

Sanjay also memorises Biblical quotes, practices meditation and reads motivational books. Sanjay has many suggestions for other resources so be in touch at

Jon with his mother India and sister Helen
Jon with his mother India and sister Helen
Jon Pedersen has moved from the house of his mother India to an assisted living facility in Virginia with the help of Jon's sister Helen and Helen's husband Jim. Jon made the move in April last year, has gained weight and enjoys new socialisation in the facility, which is a small home offering excellent care. Jon is visited by India as well as by his former wife Suzanne and his daughter Jessica.

Mark Williford
Mark Williford
From Florida Mark Williford's wife Joy reports that Mark has a practiced schedule: water aerobics is enjoyed most mornings, while babysitting his grandson and volunteering for Habitat for Humanity and his local hospital fill the other hours. Reading is a favourite pastime. Mark was so pleased to be able to escort his daughter Katie down the aisle at her wedding last March.

Nidia Santiago from Puerto Rico
Nidia Santiago from Puerto Rico
From Puerto Rico Nidia Santiago's husband Juan Carlos writes that the family (including three children) is in the process of adapting to the changes imposed by NA, learning a lot and looking at life differently. Juan Carlos says, "We are increasingly valuing what we have and trying to enjoy it the most." They have been in touch with another NA patient and family and hope to meet up with them soon.

Nidia also helps her daughter with her homework and says she feels "fine and in good spirits."

Kristi Curtis' husband John reported from Indiana in the US: "Kristi is doing well. She is able to walk with the aid of a cane. To go shopping, she must use a wheelchair. Her manual dexterity has gotten worse. I do most of the kitchen chores, but she can still do some cooking for me. She primarily drinks smoothies or chocolate shakes, but she can eat breadsticks or dinner rolls. She also like cinnamon rolls and doughnuts on weekends! She continues to exercise and do dexterity drills. The doctor has given us a referral for speech therapy to learn about the Lee Silverman technique. It appears to be exercises that help with forcing the air from the lungs through the wind pipe to make her speak louder."

Ed Ayala from Massachusetts
Ed Ayala from Massachusetts
Ed Ayala from Massachusetts has written a powerful first-person account of life with NA. To read the full version, including a struggle many patients will recognise -- getting a confirmed diagnosis -- click here: My Gift.

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