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Ataxia

Ataxia is a condition that indicates lack of muscle control during voluntary movements like picking up objects or walking. In other words it refers to the loss of coordination of muscular movement. Ataxia can affect speech, eye movement, swallowing etc. Persistent ataxia in a person may be due to damage in the cerebellum, i.e. the part of the brain that controls muscle coordination. For example, gait ataxia refers to the condition of walking difficulties owing to a tumor in the brain stem. There are different types of ataxia:



Ataxia causes

Damage or degeneration to the nerve cells in the brain that controls muscle coordination causes ataxia. Diseases damaging the spinal cord and peripheral nerves connecting the cerebellum and muscles may cause ataxia. Other common causes for Ataxia include:


  • Damage or degeneration of nerve cells in the part of the brain that controls muscle coordination.
  • Head trauma
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Brain tumor
  • Hereditary - in a few cases, an inherited gene may have caused the condition.
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Toxic reaction

    Ataxia symptoms

    Ataxia may develop over a period of time or may show up suddenly. Common symptoms include:


    • Poor coordination
    • Change in speech
    • Stumbling while walking
    • Difficulty in fine motor tasks like eating, buttoning the shirt, writing, etc
    • Difficulty in swallowing
    • Involuntary eye movement
    • Confused facial expressions
    • Problems with balance
    • Cold feet due to poor muscle activity
    • Vision problem
    • Hearing problem
    • Body tremors

    Cerebellum ataxia

    Dysfunction of cerebellum leads to this condition. Based on whether the cerebellum has lesions on one or both sides, the symptoms may vary. This condition may set in between the ages of 4 and 26 and can cause the following symptoms:


  • Asynergy (lack of coordination between organs, limbs, joints or muscles)
  • Hypotonia
  • Dysdiadochokinesia - inability to perform rapid, alternating movements
  • Dysmetria - impaired ability to control distance, speed and power of an arm, leg, hand or eye movement
  • Dyschronometria - difficulty in estimating the time that has passed.

    Sensory ataxia

    Proprioception (sense of relative position of neighboring parts of the body) is lost in this condition. A person suffering from this condition may face the following symptoms:


  • Unsteadiness or stumbling while walking/moving around.
  • With each step, the heel strikes hard while touching the ground.
  • Postural problems in poorly lit conditions.
  • Difficulty in performing voluntary movements.

    Vestibular ataxia

    Vestibular system is affected and so the following symptoms may be experienced:


  • Vertigo
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

    Ataxia diagnosis

    Diagnosis for ataxia include the following

  • Imaging studies including CT, MRI help diagnose the condition. Shrinkage of the cerebellum and other brain structures can be studied using MRI.
  • Genetic testing helps in diagnosing hereditary ataxia.
  • Lumbar Puncture

    Ataxia Treatment

    Though there is no specific treatment for ataxia, in a few cases treating the underlying cause can cure the condition. Virus induced ataxia gets cured on its own with time. The other available common treatments for ataxia include:


  • Therapies such as speech therapy in case of slurred speech, occupational therapy to handle day to day tasks and physical therapy to build strength of muscles and enhance its mobility.

    Muscular dystrophy

    Muscular dystrophy or MD is a set of inherited disorders characterized by skeletal muscle weakness and death of muscle cells and tissue. Muscular dystrophy is an inherited condition that manifests in symptoms such as frequent falls, drooping eyelids, loss of muscle size, delayed walking and muscle development. A person suffering MD has poor balance, waddling gait and respiratory difficulty. The symptoms tend to get worse over time. Muscle dystrophy can result in abnormally curved spine (scoliosis), low muscle tone (hypotonia) and arrhythmia. DNA blood test, CPK blood test and muscle biopsy is done to diagnose muscular dystrophy. Physical therapy helps gain some muscle strength and function. Surgery is often resorted to. Keeping active is essential to prevent quick degeneration.


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    Bibliography / Reference

    Collection of Pages - Last revised Date: May 25, 2019