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Binswanger's disease is a rare type of vascular dementia that causes loss of memory and changes in mood. The disease results from damage to the deep layers of white matter in the brain caused by atherosclerosis. Symptoms most often appear in people over the age of 60 and may include difficulty speaking, changes in personality and mood, and forgetfulness.

What Is Binswanger's Disease?

Binswanger's disease, sometimes referred to as subcortical vascular dementia, is a rare form of vascular dementia. It is associated with problems with blood vessels in the subcortical white matter. Binswanger's disease causes loss of memory and cognition, as well as mood changes.

What Causes It?

Binswanger's disease is caused by widespread, microscopic areas of damage to the deep layers of white matter in the brain. The damage is the result of the thickening and narrowing (atherosclerosis) of arteries that feed the subcortical areas of the brain.
Atherosclerosis (commonly known as "hardening of the arteries") is a process that affects blood vessels throughout the body. It occurs when cholesterol and other substances build up along artery walls, forming a hard substance known as plaque. Atherosclerosis generally increases in severity with age. As the arteries become more and more narrowed, the blood supplied by those arteries decreases and brain tissue dies.
There are certain factors that increase a person's risk for atherosclerosis, thus increasing the risk for Binswanger's disease. These include:
  • Having high cholesterol (also known as hypercholesterolemia)
  • Being overweight or obese (click BMI Calculator to learn about what might be a healthy weight for you)
  • Having high blood pressure (also known as hypertension)
  • Not exercising
  • Having diabetes
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Having close relatives with heart disease at younger ages (diagnosed before age 55 in a father or brother; diagnosed before age 65 in a mother or sister).
(Click Atherosclerosis Risk Factors for more information.)
Other risk factors for Binswanger's disease include:
  • History of a stroke
  • Blood problems
  • Disease of the large blood vessels in the neck (carotid artery disease)
  • Disease of the heart valves.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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