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Kearns-Sayre syndrome

What is Kearns-Sayre syndrome?
Kearns-Sayre syndrome (KSS) is a rare neuromuscular disorder with onset usually before the age of 20 years. It is the result of abnormalities in the DNA of mitochondria - small rod-like structures found in every cell of the body that produce the energy that drives cellular functions. The mitochondrial diseases correlate with specific DNA mutations that cause problems with many of the organs and tissues in the body. KSS is characterized by progressive limitation of eye movements until there is complete immobility, accompanied by eyelid droop. It is also associated with abnormal accumulation of pigmented material on the membrane lining the eyes. Additional symptoms may include mild skeletal muscle weakness, heart block (a cardiac conduction defect), short stature, hearing loss, an inability to coordinate voluntary movements (ataxia), impaired cognitive function, and diabetes. Seizures are infrequent. Several endocrine disorders can be associated with KSS.

Is there any treatment?
There is currently no effective way to treat mitochondria abnormalities in KSS. Treatment is generally symptomatic and supportive. Management of KSS involves multiple specialties depending on the organs involved. The most essential is a regular and long-term follow-up with cardiologists. Conduction problems of heart impulse like heart block may be treated with a pacemaker. Other consultations may include audiology, ophthalmology, endocrinology, neurology, and neuropsychiatry. Hearing aids may be required. There is typically no treatment for limitation in eye movement. Endocrinology abnormalities can be treated with drugs.

What is the prognosis?
KSS is a slowly progressive disorder. The prognosis for individuals with KSS varies depending on the severity and the number of organs involved. Early diagnosis and periodic electrocardiogram (ECG) are important since heart block can cause death in 20 percent of patients. Early pacemaker implantation can be of great benefit and offer a longer life expectancy in many patients.

What research is being done?
The NINDS supports research on neuromuscular disorders such as KSS. The goals of this research are to increase understanding of these disorders, and to find ways to prevent, treat, and, ultimately, cure them. The most promising approach for treatment in the future will be to alter replication or destroy abnormal mitochondria.

Patient recruitment for Kearns-Sayre syndrome clinical trials
Throughout the U.S. and Worldwide

National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)

55 Kenosia Avenue
Danbury, CT 06810
203-744-0100, Voice Mail 800-999-NORD (6673)

Muscular Dystrophy Association
3300 East Sunrise Drive
Tucson, AZ 85718-3208
520-529-2000, 800-572-1717

United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation
8085 Saltsburg Road, Suite 201
Pittsburgh, PA 15239
412-793-8077, 888-317-UMDF (8633)

This information was developed by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. NINDS Kearns-Sayre Syndrome Information Page. Available at: Last accessed April 24, 2023.

The information in this document is for general educational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for personalized professional advice. Although the information was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, MedLink LLC, its representatives, and the providers of the information do not guarantee its accuracy and disclaim responsibility for adverse consequences resulting from its use. For further information, consult a physician and the organization referred to herein.

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