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Ataxia – Causes, Symptoms, Types, Diagnosis and Treatment

Ataxia is a disorder that causes loss of synchronized movement of the body. Ataxia may appear as clumsiness, inaccuracy, or instability. It can also affect one’s hearing, speech and vision. It can also affect one’s fingers, arms, hands or legs adversely. The person walks with an unstable gait and loses balance. Ataxia refers to the loss of sufficient capacity to harmonize muscle movement when doing voluntary activities.

– When ataxia affects mechanisms of walking, there will be instability with a tendency to fall.
– When ataxia affects the eyes, rapid shifts of gaze to look at a particular object often miss.
– Balance may also get affected.

Any condition that affects the cerebellum or signals going to and from the cerebellum causes ataxia.
Cerebellar ataxia is a condition in which cerebellum is affected.
Sensory ataxia is a condition in which cerebellum is unaffected but is unable to receive signals. In this, the spinal cord, thalamus, cortex or nerves may be affected.
Vestibular ataxia is a condition in which the signals from the inner ear are unable to reach the brainstem and cerebellum. A person feels that either the patient or his surroundings are spinning.

Symptoms of Ataxia

– Unbalanced gait pattern.
– Unable to maintain proper posture.
– Reduced effectiveness in hand and arm control.
– Difficulty in saying words or slurred speech.
– Swallowing problems.
– Problem in moving eyes.
– Signs of increased fatigue.

Causes of Ataxia

– Stroke.
– Cerebral Palsy.
– Head trauma or injury.
– Chicken pox.
– Tumor.
– Any toxic reaction.
– Viral infections.
– High fever, seizures and migraine.
– Lack of vitamin B1 and B12 and E.
– Transient ischemic attack.

Types Of Ataxia

– Hereditary Ataxia : This type of ataxia is caused by defects in the genes that a person inherits from their parents. It can be done in two ways:
=> Autosomal recessive ataxia: where the genetic mutation can only be passed down if both parents have a copy of the mutated gene. Friedreich’s ataxia and ataxia-telangiectasia are examples of this type.
=> Autosomal dominant ataxia: where the genetic mutation can be passed down if only one parent has a copy of the mutated gene. Spinocerebellar ataxia and episodic ataxia are examples of this type.

Acute Ataxia is caused by cancers, such as a brain tumour, conditions that interrupt the supply of blood to the brain, toxins (poisons), health conditions that damage the nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis, health conditions where the immune system attacks healthy tissue (autoimmune conditions), such as lupus, infections, such as meningitis, measles and rubella.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Ataxia

– A doctor who suspects the patient may have ataxia will refer him/her to a neurologist. Tests like MRI, CT Scan, Genetic tests, Blood tests, Urine tests are done.
– No specific treatment for ataxia is there but symptoms such as tremor, stiffness, spasticity, sleep disorders, muscle weakness, depression may be addressed with targeted physical therapy, speech therapy, medications and counseling.

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