White matter refers to the connective tissues found inside the brain, while nonspecific white matter or white matter changes refer to a condition in which these tissues change for no known reason. There are many neurological disorders which may impact the white matter, including most causes of dementia and multiple sclerosis. Patients who have nonspecific changes in white matter on a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may be tested for neurological disorders even if no other symptoms are present. Sometimes no cause is ever clearly identified.
Sometimes changes on an MRI scan may be referred to nonspecific white matter disease. Changes may involve lesions on the white matter. Patients may also experience symptoms, such as migraine, although no known cause of these symptoms may be found. These lesions can also be considered normal for the elderly, although those who were found to have nonspecific white matter lesions were also found to have lower cognitive ability than those who didn't, even in patients who have no known illness or dementia.
If nonspecific white matter lesions are discovered, further testing will likely be ordered to determine the underlying cause. Certain forms of dementia, along with several neurological disorders, like Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis, also feature white matter lesions as a symptom. If the lesions are small and are not widespread, further testing may be held off until a later date when another MRI may be performed.
Treatment for lesions and other changes will depend on the underlying condition and symptoms. Most neurological disorders are not curable, but many can be slowed or treated with medication. The medications are generally used to slow down symptoms and prevent further neurological damage, although this is not always possible long-term. Patients will typically eventually succumb to white matter-related illnesses.
Multiple sclerosis is one exception to that rule. Patients with this disorder may go in and out of remission during the course of their illnesses. Sometimes periods of remission can last for several years. Additionally, this illness is typically non-fatal, although paralysis is sometimes the result of its effects, especially in those who do not seek immediate treatment. With modern medicinal therapies, patients are often able to maintain mobility well into old age if treatment is ongoing and started as soon as possible.