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What is Ataxia​ ?

Ataxia is a degenerative disease of the nervous system consisting of lack of voluntary coordination of muscle movements. It describes lack of muscle control such as walking or picking up objects. It can affect various movements such as speech problem, eye movement, and swallowing. Ataxia is related to any injury disorder that affects the brain.

It can be limited to one side of the body which is referred to as hemiataxia. The word ataxia comes from Greek which means lack of order. Ataxia affects any motion that requires muscles to work together to perform a function. One important thing to note about ataxia is that it is an underlying problem and not a disease in itself.

Degeneration or damage of nerve cells in the part of the brain leads to ataxia. Ataxia causes include –

  • Damage to the brain and spinal cord due to head trauma suffered from car accident causes acute cerebellar ataxia.
  • In case of stroke, blood supply to a part of the brain is interrupted.
  • Cerebral palsy – it is a general term for a group of disorders caused by damage to a child’s brain.
  • Uncommon complications of chickenpox and other viral infections can lead to Ataxia.
  • Autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, sarcoidosis, celiac diseases can cause ataxia.
  • Some other causes include tumor, toxin reaction from barbiturates, Phenobarbital, vitamin E, vitamin B-12 or thiamine deficiency etc.

The symptoms of Ataxia are seen over time or can be seen immediately. Some of the common symptoms are:

  • Poor coordination of muscles.
  • Trouble in walking leading to a tumble.
  • Difficulty in performing small tasks such as eating, writing or buttoning a shirt.
  • Change in speech and frequent slurring.
  • Involuntary back and forth eye movements.


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There is no treatment of Ataxia but treatment methods can ease the symptoms by treating the underlying conditions. Some of the treatment methods are

Physiotherapy – physical therapy helps in coordination and enhancement of mobility. Occupational therapy helps in daily living tasks such as feeding, writing etc. For improvement of speech and swallowing, there is speech therapy.

Medication – medication is given for muscle stiffness, spasticity, cramps, and pain. It is done with baclofen and tizanidine. Botox can also be used to loosen up the muscles.

Adaptive devices – in cases of multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy, your doctor may recommend you hiking stick, modified utensils, communication aids for speaking etc.

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