Ataxia: symptoms, causes and treatment


Ataxia is a term used to describe a loss of coordination in the body. This loss of coordination can manifest as loss of balance, slurred speech, stumbling, wide gait, or a variety of other symptoms.

Ataxia can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, such as multiple sclerosis , or it can be the cause itself. Although ataxia is more commonly used to describe certain symptoms such as loss of balance, it also describes a group of degenerative diseases of the central nervous system.

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What is ataxia?

Ataxia may refer to a symptom of loss of coordination or hereditary or sporadic ataxia.

In hereditary ataxia, they degenerate with a genetic mutation that degeneratively affects coordination. Its symptoms may appear during childhood or develop later in life and will progress over time. The severity of the disability depends on several factors, such as the age of onset and the type of ataxia.

With sporadic ataxia, there is no family history of the disease and symptoms usually appear in adulthood.

When ataxia is used to describe loss of coordination that occurs due to an underlying cause, symptoms can range from slurred speech to loss of balance, tripping and falling.

These symptoms affect your balance and the way you walk, talk, and move in your daily life.

Symptoms of ataxia.

The symptoms of ataxia depend on the cause. If the cause is an underlying condition or disease, such as a stroke , swelling , alcoholism, or nerve damage, you may experience symptoms such as:

  • Poor coordination
  • Balance problems
  • Inability to coordinate arms, hands and feet.
  • Speak slurred
  • Wide gear
  • Problems with writing and eating.
  • Slow eye movements

Symptoms of the genetic form of ataxia or sporadic ataxia can include:

  • Poor coordination and balance.
  • Speak slurred
  • Small red spider veins on the skin and eyes.
  • Lung infections
  • Delayed physical and sexual development.
  • Difficulty to swallow
  • Tremor (involuntary shaking movements)
  • Heart problems
  • Dificulty to walk

Causes of ataxia

Ataxia is most often a symptom of another painful process. If you experience loss of coordination or any of the other symptoms mentioned above, it is important to speak with your doctor to determine the cause.

Coordination problems, slurred speech, and gait problems can be due to a variety of causes. These reasons include:

  • Stroke and other brain injuries that cause a lack of oxygen in the brain.
  • Demyelinating diseases that affect the nerve sheath, such as multiple sclerosis .
  • Exposure to heavy metals like lead and mercury
  • Alcohol-related disorder (binge drinking) that causes problems in the cerebellum, the part of the brain that coordinates voluntary movements.
  • Medicines such as those used in chemotherapy and those used to treat epilepsy.
  • Infectious diseases such as encephalitis, HIV, and Whipple's disease.
  • Autoimmune diseases such as celiac disease.
  • Lack of vitamins, including B12
  • Hereditary causes , including Friedreich's ataxia, ataxia-telangiectasia, spinocerebellar ataxia, Marinesko-Sj√∂gren syndrome, and others.

The rare genetic causes of ataxia are diseases themselves.

Types of ataxia

There are three main categories of ataxia depending on the part of the body affected. These are the sensory, cerebellar and vestibular ataxias:

  • Sensory ataxia : This type is caused by damage to the somatosensory nervous system. Sensory feedback signals, such as vision and sound, are affected, making it difficult to maintain coordination.
  • Cerebellar ataxia : When the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls coordination, is damaged, symptoms of ataxia occur.
  • Vestibular ataxia : When the vestibular system, which is the inner ear and cochlea , is affected, you may experience symptoms such as dizziness (dizziness or spinning sensation), nausea, and difficulty walking in a straight line.

All three categories will have different ataxia symptoms. Health professionals often use specific clinical terms to describe the types of ataxia and how they affect your body.

Types of ataxia symptoms

Depending on your symptoms, your healthcare provider may use any of the terms below to describe your condition and help determine the cause:

  • Position : With ataxia, which affects your posture, it is difficult to stand with your legs together for more than 30 seconds.
  • Gait ataxia : Loss of leg coordination and / or proprioceptive information, or awareness of where your body is in space, can make you feel like you need to hold onto something while walking. You can also walk with your legs wide apart to compensate for the feeling of falling. If you have sensory or vestibular disorders, you may also have difficulty walking when your eyes are closed or it is dark outside.
  • Sensory ataxia : You can walk briskly or tap your foot to get information about where you are going. When the upper extremities are affected by sensory ataxia, if you close your eyes while performing a task, your fingers may move erratically.
  • Torso ataxia : When you are sitting or standing, your upper body may move unsteady, making you appear drunk.
  • Limb ataxia : Often affects the arms and hands, this can cause difficulty writing, lifting small objects, or buttoning clothing. It can also affect the legs.
  • Dysdiadochokinesia / dysrhythmokinesia : Your doctor may ask you to repeatedly tap your thumb with your index finger. If you have dysdiadochokinesia / arrhythmokinesia, the pattern will be uneven in rhythm and amplitude (size of movement).
  • Intentional tremor : When placing the finger on the nose or the heel on the shin, the hand or foot may start to shake or tremble; this is an intentional shaking. In particular, this happens when you start driving.
  • Dismetria : This ataxia occurs when you try to reach or touch an object and fail or fall short.
  • Dysarthria : This ataxia is often known as slurred speech. You can also speak irregularly or slowly with uncertainty. You can break words into separate syllables and focus on consonants that don't normally stand out.
  • Nystagmus – This is the rhythmic movement of the eyes from side to side or up and down, even when trying to focus on something.
  • Taken : When you use saccades, your eyes flick back and forth quickly to try to find what you are looking at. Actually, it is normal for certain eye movements to make rapid visual transitions between objects. If saccades are violated, you may see target overshoot or flaw with corrective saccades to center the visual.
  • Rectangular thrusts / flapping / opsoclone : These are other eye movement disorders in which the eye can flap or contract.


To diagnose ataxia, your healthcare provider will take a complete medical history. They will examine your symptoms and perform a physical exam looking for any of the ataxias mentioned above.

You may be asked to walk in a straight line, tap your thumb and forefinger together several times, touch your nose to your index finger, or stand with your feet together and your eyes closed. These tests, along with others, can be performed and monitored in your doctor's office.

After performing these tests and looking at your history, your doctor may order other tests that he or she deems necessary. Although your PCP can perform many of these tests, you may also be referred to a neurologist for a more comprehensive exam.

Additional tests for ataxia may include, but are not limited to:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) : An MRI of the brain is almost always indicated for symptoms of ataxia. While this test doesn't always identify the underlying medical condition, it can give your doctor a clue as to the cause of your ataxia.
  • Blood tests : Your healthcare provider may also draw blood to check your thyroid function, B12 and folate levels, and to check for celiac disease. This can help determine the cause of your ataxia.
  • Muscle biopsy : A muscle biopsy takes a sample of muscle tissue for analysis in a laboratory. This can help identify various causes of ataxia, such as reduced CoQ10 levels and genetic mutations.
  • Lumbar puncture: A lumbar puncture or a lumbar puncture may be necessary to analyze the cerebrospinal fluid for abnormalities.
  • More scans and blood tests: Additional tests may be required if cancer is suspected but not found.
  • Genetic tests : This type of test can help determine if your ataxia is caused by one of the inherited forms of ataxia.

Watch out

Treatment for ataxia depends on the cause. If ataxia is a symptom of another disorder, the underlying disorder should be treated. Treatment of the underlying disease or disease process can alleviate or alleviate symptoms.

For example, you may be given physical therapy after a stroke, assistive devices for multiple sclerosis, or recommended to take vitamin supplements if you are vitamin deficient. If you have celiac disease, you will be taught how to change your diet to eliminate gluten .

All treatments for ataxia depend on the specific cause of your ataxia. Sometimes you will need to see a specialist who is treating the condition that is causing your symptoms.

If your ataxia belongs to a group of degenerative diseases, treatment options may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Medications : Riluzole, varenicline, and amantadine are all medications that have shown promise for improving gait and tremors.
  • Occupational therapy / physical therapy : Physical therapy and occupational therapy that affect balance, gait , or movement control can help improve quality of life in ataxia.


Ataxia is a loss of coordination, a symptom seen in multiple sclerosis, stroke, alcohol use disorder, and more. It is also the name given to a group of diseases that cause the degeneration of the central nervous system. People with ataxia may show loss of balance, slurred speech, stumbling, and unusual eye movements.

Your healthcare provider can diagnose your condition or refer you to a neurologist. Once the underlying condition has been identified, treatment can correct the ataxia.

Get the word of drug information

Because treatment for ataxia depends on the cause, if you experience any symptoms of ataxia, you should see your doctor immediately for a full evaluation. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Studying the cause of ataxia can help preserve quality of life.

Once the cause is established, treatment can begin. While there may be no cure for your symptoms, often just knowing the cause can help you find more information about your condition and learn how to treat it.

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