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A to Z: Mitochondrial Disorder

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May also be called: Mitochondrial Disease; Mitochondrial Dysfunction

Mitochondrial (my-tuh-KON-dree-ul) disorders affect the function of mitochondria, tiny structures within the body’s cells that turn sugar and oxygen into the energy the cells need to do their jobs.

More to Know

Nearly every cell in the body has mitochondria. When someone has a mitochondrial disorder, it means that something — usually a genetic defect — is preventing the mitochondria from working correctly. The mitochondria make less energy and the cells don’t work the way they should.

There are many different kinds of mitochondrial disorder, which can affect different parts of the body. Some types affect a single organ, such as the eyes, ears, brain, kidney, or heart. Others affect many organs at the same time.

Depending on the body parts affected, people with a mitochondrial disorder may experience it differently. It all depends on which organs are affected and how severe the disorder is. Some people with a mitochondrial disorder might not even know that they have one, and some may have only very mild symptoms. Others may have problems with physical and mental development; vision or hearing loss; dementia or loss of mental ability; or diseases of the heart, liver, brain, and kidneys.

Signs of a mitochondrial disorder often appear for the first time when a child is still young, but they can affect people of any age. There are no specific treatments for mitochondrial disorders at this time, but in some cases medicine can help control certain problems.

Keep in Mind

There is no cure for a mitochondrial disorder, but medicine and other therapies can help many people treat their symptoms.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.