What Is the Life Expectancy of People With Mitochondrial Disease?

Medically Reviewed on 12/22/2022
What Is the Life Expectancy of People With Mitochondrial Disease
The majority of people with mitochondrial disease survive for several years if treated properly, although life expectancy cannot be predicted

Mitochondrial diseases are genetic abnormalities that affect energy synthesis in the cells. They trigger progressive diseases that often result in substantial impairment and, in certain cases, reduced life expectancy. 

According to studies, the majority of people with mitochondrial disease survive for several years if treated properly, although life expectancy cannot be predicted. Because mitochondrial diseases can affect different organs at varying levels of severity, life expectancy differs from person to person.

Is mitochondrial disease always fatal?

To date, there has been limited research about the “end-of-life” phase and reasons for death in people with mitochondrial diseases. Although clinical symptoms associated with particular syndromes may indicate the cause of death, it remains difficult to offer a precise prognosis.

Many mitochondrial diseases manifest in childhood. Others emerge later in life. Your age determines the severity of symptoms at the time of onset of the condition and the number of organ systems involved. 

Some of the most severely affected children do not survive their adolescence, and many adults experience their formerly productive lifestyle deteriorate into disability. People who present with the condition neonatally have a lower life expectancy. Comorbidities may sometimes limit life expectancy even with appropriate treatments.

What are the most common symptoms of mitochondrial disease?

Mitochondrial disease symptoms vary depending on which organ or organ systems are affected. Among them, possible early signs and symptoms include:

Clusters of signs and symptoms often emerge, indicating the presence of this rare syndrome.

Which organs are most affected by mitochondrial disease?

The involvement of multiple organ systems in three or more areas commonly indicates mitochondrial disease. 

Because mitochondria are found in 90% of our cells, they can affect many organs, including the brain and muscles. The brain, heart, liver, skeletal muscles, kidney, endocrine, and respiratory systems are generally the most affected. 

Signs and symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction depending on the affected organ system are as follows:

What is the most frequent cause of mitochondrial diseases?

Mitochondrial diseases are caused by genetic defects in the mitochondria. Healthy mitochondria use oxygen, sugar, protein, and fat from food to produce energy. Mitochondria that are defective owing to mutation may produce less energy, thus resulting in organ failure.

  • Primary disease: Mitochondrial disease is a hereditary condition, which means that most people are born with it. It is inherited from one or both parents. In very rare cases, the condition is caused by a "spontaneous mutation," which arises at or before conception despite the presence of healthy (normal) genes in both parents.
  • Secondary disease: It is also possible to develop mitochondrial illness later in life without having a basic DNA mutation. This is known as secondary mitochondrial disease. It may arise as a result of:
    • The natural aging process (mitochondria slow down and work less effectively as the body gets older)
    • Certain prescription medications
    • Damage to mitochondria from stressors such as smoking or alcohol abuse

Mitochondrial disease is rare but can affect people of all genders and ages.

Is mitochondrial damage reversible?

Advances in medicine and research over the last decade have helped in understanding, diagnosing, and treating mitochondrial diseases. Unfortunately, no cure or treatment guarantees improved health or function. The objectives of supportive treatment for mitochondrial diseases may include:

  • Alleviating symptoms
  • Improving function 
  • Slowing disease progression 

Common treatment options for mitochondrial dysfunction may include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Respiratory therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Massage therapy
  • Stretching and relaxation exercises
  • Exercise training
  • Counseling
  • Medications and supplements 


  • Anti-convulsants
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Botox injections


Several vitamin supplements have been found in a recent study to help reduce symptoms and enhance function. They are commonly referred to as the "mitochondrial cocktail." Your doctor may advise you to take some or all of the following supplements:

  • Creatine monohydrate
  • Vitamins C and E
  • Alpha lipoic acid
  • Co-enzyme Q10
  • Riboflavin
  • Thiamine
  • L-carnitine
  • L-arginine

This vitamin combination is intended to help compensate for shortages caused by improper mitochondrial energy production. Vitamins and supplements are currently the core treatment for mitochondrial diseases. They are believed to aid mitochondrial energy production and prevent toxic compound buildup within cells. 


Exercise is one of the most effective therapies for mitochondrial disease. Swimming, walking, cycling, weight lifting, and other activities may be recommended by a doctor, depending on your condition. 

Exercising promotes energy production in the body, which enhances mitochondrial function and increases the number of healthy mitochondria in cells. People who exercise learn to use oxygen more efficiently, resulting in a gradual increase in exercise tolerance. Your physician can help you design an exercise program tailored to your needs.

Dietary therapy

Understanding how foods affect your body and modifying your diet to what your body tolerates best is one way to manage your symptoms. Research has shown that a keto diet may be effective in some people; however, this may not be the cause for all people.

Other treatments

Optical aids

Hearing aids

Implanted cardiac pacemakers or defibrillators

Intravenous (IV) hydration and IV antibiotics

Can you recover from mitochondrial disease?

Treatment success varies from person to person, depending on the severity of the condition. Individuals with moderate symptoms may respond more positively to therapy than those with severe symptoms. However, treatment cannot reverse the harm that has already been done.

Because mitochondrial diseases are rare, limited systematic research on the average survival of people has been conducted. The average life expectancy is expected to increase as treatments and early detection methods improve. Scientific and technological advancements will allow for therapeutic breakthroughs in treating mitochondrial illnesses.

How to cope with a diagnosis of mitochondrial disease

Receiving a diagnosis and living with mitochondrial disease can be difficult. 

Having a reliable network of family and friends that provide a support system can help improve your quality of life. Exercise and meditation can also help you relieve stress. Make use of community resources such as therapeutic programs to help make the condition more manageable.

As more people become aware of mitochondrial disease, additional treatment options may become available. It may help to stay informed on mitochondrial news and clinical studies that are taking place.

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Medically Reviewed on 12/22/2022
Image Source: Getty image

Explaining mitochondrial disease https://mitocanada.org/understanding-mito/mitochondrial-disease/

Mitochondrial Disease https://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/mitochondrial-disease#:

Mitochondrial Disease FAQs https://www.mitoaction.org/mitochondrial-disease/faq/

Understanding & Navigating Mitochondrial Disease https://www.umdf.org/what-is-mitochondrial-disease-2/