Ataxia is a term used to describe a lack of coordination or muscle control needed to complete simple voluntary movements, such as reaching for objects and walking. It can even affect swallowing andeye movement and result in difficulties with speech. In most cases, it's a sign that you may have a more serious medical condition.
Ataxia is usually caused when your nerve cells that control muscle coordination become damaged or lost. Muscle coordination is controlled by the cerebellum, which comprises two small portions of folded tissue located near your brainstem. While the right side of your cerebellum is responsible for controlling coordination on the right side of your body, the left side controls coordination on the left side of your body.
There are many conditions and diseases that cause ataxia, including the following:
- Alcohol Abuse
- Vitamin B-12, Vitamin E, and Thiamine Deficiency
- Brain Degeneration
- Cerebral Palsy
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Head Trauma
- Autoimmune Diseases
- Paraneoplastic Syndromes
- Toxic Reaction
- Certain Medications
Sporadic ataxia, on the other hand, has no specific cause and can take many different forms.
Depending on what part of your brain ataxia has affected, your symptoms may vary and differ from other ataxia patients. Some of the more common symptoms include the following:
- Difficulty Using Hands and Fingers to Grab Things, Write, Type, and Sew, Among Other Things
- Difficulty Walking
- Slurred Speech
- Difficulty Swallowing
- Involuntary, Rapid Eye Movement
If you think you may have ataxia, schedule an appointment with your doctor. During your appointment, he or she will perform a physical examination and discuss your medical history and any symptoms you're experiencing. Your doctor may also ask questions about your exposure to toxins or chemicals or if anyone in your family has a history of neurological problems.
From there, your doctor will perform a neurologic exam to check for muscle weakness. Your doctor may also order lab tests, such as urine and blood tests, to check for chemical and electrolyte abnormalities. Your doctor may even order a CT scan or MRI of your spinal cord and brain. If your doctor believes genetics is behind your condition, he or she may order genetic testing.
Ataxia has many potential causes, and some may take time to properly diagnose. It's not uncommon for primary health care professionals to consult with an internal medicine specialist when attempting to formulate a diagnosis.
If you're diagnosed with ataxia, your doctor will discuss treatment options. Treatments for ataxia varies depending on the cause of your condition. In some cases, the condition is irreversible.If so, treatment would centre around occupational and physical therapies to help alleviate symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Unfortunately, the causes of ataxia are irreversible in some cases. However, many causes of the condition are reversible. Those cases typically result in fairly good outlooks. If your ataxia is irreversible, chances are your care will focus on your quality of life and ways to alleviate any uncomfortable symptoms.