How Might Mitochondrial Disease Affect My Lifespan?

Emily Malcolm, PhD avatar

by Emily Malcolm, PhD |

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Being diagnosed with a genetic condition like mitochondrial disease can be challenging and frightening, and you may be wondering whether your disease will affect your lifespan.

Does mitochondrial disease affect lifespan?

The effect mitochondrial disease will have on a patient’s lifespan is difficult to predict. There are many types of mitochondrial disease with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Some patients’ symptoms worsen over time, some have severe symptoms most of the time, and some patients have “flare-ups” or times when their symptoms are worse. Some patients have a nearly normal lifespan, and others have a reduced lifespan.

What factors can alter lifespan?

Because mitochondrial disease is rare, few systematic studies have been done on the average lifespan of patients. As treatments and early diagnostic methods improve, the average lifespan is likely to increase.

A small study in children with mitochondrial disease examined the patient records of 221 children with mitochondrial disease. Of these, 14% died three to nine years after diagnosis. Five patients lived less than three years, and three patients lived longer than nine years. For the children who died before reaching their 15th birthday, the cause of death was primarily sepsis and pneumonia but these were not the primary causes of death in adult patients. The researchers indicated that boosting the immune system of children with mitochondrial disease may be key to increasing their lifespan.

A similar small study of 30 adult patients with mitochondrial disease demonstrated that the main cause of death was respiratory failure, heart failure, and cerebral incidents such as seizures or strokes. However, in nearly half of the patients, the cause of death was unknown.


Last updated: April 28, 2020


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