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Home > Services > Neurodegenerative > Mitochondrial Myopathy

Mitochondrial Myopathy

Mitochondrial Myopathy

Torso muscle and nerves
Mitochondrial myopathies decrease
the ability of nerves and muscles. Weakness

and uncoordinated movement may result.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Mitochondrial myopathies are a group of diseases. Each disease has different symptoms. Some may be mild while others are life threatening. However, the diseases are all caused by a problem with the mitochondria.

Mitochondria are tiny structures found in almost all cells. It is their job to provide energy to these cells. Mitochondrial myopathies can interfere with many different bodily functions. It tends to have the greatest impact on structures that are active such as the muscles and nerves.


This condition is caused by a mutation in a specific gene.


Having a family member with the mutated gene increases the risk of mitochondrial myopathies.


Mitochondrial myopathies can cause a range of symptoms. Symptoms by specific condition include:

Kearns-Sayre syndrome (KSS) Before age 20 Salt and pepper pigmentation in eye, eye movement problems (PEO), heart and skeletal muscle dysfunction
Leigh’s syndrome Infancy—can appear later Brain abnormalities that lead to muscle problems, seizures, uncoordinated muscle movement (ataxia), impaired vision and hearing, developmental delay, and poor control over breathing
Mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome Infancy Muscle weakness and liver failure, floppiness, feeding difficulties, and developmental delay
Mitochondrial encephalomyopathy, lactic acidosis and stroke-like episodes (MELAS) Childhood to adulthood Stroke-like episodes, migraine headaches, vomiting and seizures, muscle weakness, exercise intolerance, hearing loss, diabetes, short stature
Myoclonic epilepsy associated with ragged red fibers (MERRF) Late childhood to adulthood Myoclonus (jerky movements), seizures, muscle weakness, uncoordinated muscle movement (ataxia)
Mitochondrial neurogastrointestinal encephalomyopathy (MNGIE) Before age 20 Eye movement problems (PEO), drooping eyelid, limb weakness, digestive problems, peripheral neuropathy
Neuropathy, ataxia, and retinitis pigmentosa (NARP) Early childhood to adulthood Uncoordinated muscle movement (ataxia), degeneration of the retina in the eye leading to loss of vision
Pearson’s syndrome Infancy Causes severe anemia and pancreas problems, survivors usually develop KSS
Progressive external ophthalmoplegia (PEO) Adulthood Eye movement difficulty, and often symptoms of other mitochondrial diseases, but can be an independent syndrome

Other general symptoms include:

  • Muscle weakness or exercise intolerance
  • Lack of balance or coordination
  • Arryhthmias of the heart or heart failure
  • Problems with eye movements—either problems with control or inability to move them
  • Seizures
  • Stroke-like episodes
  • Vomiting
  • Cognitive or learning deficits
  • Dementia


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You will also be asked about any family history of the disease. An eye exam may also be done.

Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Muscle biopsy
  • Blood tests
  • Lumbar puncture—also known as a spinal tap

Your heart activity may be tested. This can be done with an electrocardiogram.

Your nerve function may be tested. This can be done with electromyography (EMG).


There is no specific treatment for these diseases. Instead, treatment will focus on managing the symptoms. Treatment options include the following:

Dietary Supplements

Supplements may help make energy in the cells. These may include:

  • Creatine
  • Carnitine
  • Coenzyme Q10

Work with your doctor on the doses of these supplements.

Physical Therapy

Therapy may be used to strengthen muscles and improve mobility. Some may need devices like braces, walkers, or wheelchairs to help them get around.

Speech Therapy

Muscle weakness in the throat may make talking or swallowing difficult. Speech therapy may help strengthen the muscles or work around the weakness.

Respiratory Therapy

Respiratory therapy will help make sure you are breathing properly. It may involve some training techniques for respiratory muscles. It can include pressurized air treatment or the use of a ventilator.


Medications may be needed for symptoms such as seizures or pain.


There are no known guidelines to prevent this condition.

Join a Clinical Trial

Take advantage of UVA and join the clinical trial using focused ultrasound for movement disorders.


These programs have been designated Centers of Excellence:

  • Our Parkinson’s disease program, by the American Parkinson’s Disease Association 
  • Our Huntington’s disease program, by the Huntington’s Disease Society of America 
  • Our Focused Ultrasound Surgery Center, by the Focused Ultrasound Foundation