Ataxia represents a group of neuromuscular disorders that affects muscle control during voluntary movements, such as walking, speaking, swallowing and use of the eyes. The symptoms of ataxia include:
- Impaired coordination when walking and performing other daily tasks
- Impaired fine motor skills which include picking up small items, writing, even eating
- Speech problems
- Eye coordination problems
- Difficulty swallowing
Ataxia can affect one or both sides of the body which correlates with the side of the cerebellum affected; the right side of the cerebellum controls the right side of the body and vice versa. When ataxia affects only one side, it is called hemiataxia.
Causes of Ataxia
Ataxia is caused by damage to the cerebellum, the area of the brain that controls voluntary movement. When the cerebellum is damaged by injury or degeneration of nerve cells, muscle coordination begins to become compromised. While some cases of ataxia are transient, others can involve permanent symptoms. Most cases of transient ataxia are associated with similarly transient conditions such as Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA).
Hereditary ataxia is causes by genetic disorders passed through the family. In these cases, degeneration of nerve cells and loss of coordination may exist from birth and get worse as the patient ages. Most hereditary ataxias are progressive and none are curable.
Other causes of persistent ataxia include diseases such as:
- Cerebral Palsy
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Brain Tumors
- Brain Injury
- Alcohol abuse
While persistent ataxia is commonly caused by an underlying disorder and is not a treatable disease itself, the treating neurologist will seek to determine the cause of the ataxia. Based on the symptoms, a complete medical history, and diagnostic testing and imaging, the neurologist will likely render a diagnosis. Once established, treating the underlying disorder may relieve some of the symptoms of ataxia.
In cases of transient ataxia, patients will be prescribed medical therapies that alleviate some symptoms until symptoms improve or resolve. These may include adaptive devices that allow the patient to function around the disability created by ataxia.