Ataxia is the condition where the person experience a lack of muscle control while walking, picking objects or during voluntary movements. Ataxia is the signs of other underlying conditions and it may impact the movements adversely. It may also make your speech, swallowing and eye movement complicated. Unremitting Ataxia may also result from cerebellum damage which is the part of your brain that controls the muscle coordination. There are many conditions which may cause Ataxia like stroke, alcohol abuse, cerebral palsy, tumour and multiple sclerosis. Because of inherited defective gene Ataxia may be caused in some patients. The treatments offered by doctors depend on the underlying cause of Ataxia. There are occupational therapies, physical therapies and speech therapies which can help improve the condition.

What are the Symptoms of Ataxia?

Ataxia is the conditions which have no initial symptoms as it may develop gradually. In some patients it may occur suddenly without any prior signs. Ataxia is the common sign of neurological disorder and may cause

  • Unsteady walking and propensity of stumble suddenly
  • Poor coordination
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Changes in speech
  • Finding difficulty in eating, buttoning a short or writing
  • Involuntary back and forth eye movements

What are the Causes of Ataxia?

When the nerve cells in brain controlling the muscle coordination get damaged or impacted, then it causes Ataxia. The cerebellum has two different small sized portions of folded tissues which are located right at the bottom of the brain close to the brainstem, of which the right portion controls coordination of right side, while the left side tissue controls the coronation of the left side of body. Disorders or medical conditions which damage the peripheral nerves and spinal cord which connect the cerebellum to muscles may also lead to Ataxia. Some of the other causes of Ataxia include:

  • Stroke – When blood pumping to parts of brain is hampered or interrupted then it may cause Ataxia, deprived level of oxygen and nutrients to brain tissues and dead brain cells may also cause Ataxia
  • Damages to the spinal cord or brain from a blow of head, accident and more can cause onset of Ataxia which is also referred as acute cerebellar Ataxia
  • Cerebral Palsy – This is the medical term for a group of complications which are caused by damaging of child’s brain during early development and affects the ability of the child to coordinate body movments
  • Transient Ischemic Attack – This is the condition which is caused due to reduced blood supply to the part of brain and it may last for few minutes only. Temporary symptoms include loss of coordination
  • Multiple Sclerosis – This is the chronic condition which may affect the central nervous system
  • Tumour growth in brain which is benign or malignant in nature may also cause damage to the cerebellum.
  • Paraneoplastic syndromes are the degenerative and rare disorder which is caused by immune system response to cancerous tumours and Ataxia may occur years and months before cancer is actually diagnosed
  • Toxic Reaction or side of certain medications may also cause Ataxia. Drugs and alcohol intoxications may also cause Ataxia. Paint thinner, solvent poisoning, heavy metal poisoning may also cause Ataxia.
  • Deficiency in Vitamin E and Vitamin B-12 cause leads to Ataxia.

Adults with sporadic Ataxia may not have any symptoms and no specific cause is found for such conditions.


Patients who have been diagnosed with Ataxia may undergo certain tests to find out the treatable cause of Ataxia. Apart from physical tests, some neurological tests may also be conducted including checking the concentration levels, memory, hearing, vision, coordination, balance, reflexes and more. Doctors may also prescribe other tests like

  • Imagining Studies – It is a computerized tomography scan or a magnetic resonance imaging of brain and this test helps in finding the potential cause of Ataxia. It shows the shrinkage of cerebellum and brain structures in people that are diagnosed with Ataxia
  • Lumbar Puncture – This is the test where needle is inserted in the lumbar region between two lumbar bones so as to take some sample of cerebrospinal fluid, this is the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord and it is sent for further lab testing
  • Genetic Testing – Doctors may also prescribe genetic testing so as to find out whether you or your child has gene mutation that is causing the hereditary Ataxia conditions

Treatments for Ataxia

There is in fact not specific treatment available for Ataxia. But doctors may test to find the treatable underlying cause of Ataxia. The Ataxia which is caused due to chickenpox or viral infections may resolve on its own and sometime doctors may also prescribe adaptive devices or therapies to treat the underlying cause of Ataxia.

Adaptive Devices are prescribed to patients that are having Ataxia due to other conditions like cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis and Ataxia is not treatable. Some of the adaptive devices include

  • Communication aids for speaking
  • Modified utensils for eating
  • Canes or walkers for walking

Therapies are also prescribed to patients with Ataxia and this includes:

  • Speech therapy to improvise the swallowing and speech
  • Occupational therapy to support patients to perform their daily activities
  • Physical therapy to build strength and to improvise the mobility

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