Ataxia is a neurological movement disorder that affects muscle coordination, disrupts balance and impairs walking. The effects of ataxia are due to damage caused to the cerebellum – a part of the brain that controls muscle coordination.
There are many different types of ataxia; over 40 types are inherited. Some types of ataxia include cerebellar ataxia – the dysfunction of the cerebellum, sensory ataxia – the loss of proprioception, which is the sense of neighboring parts of the body, and vestibular ataxia – a sudden unilateral case that can lead to vertigo, nausea and vomiting.
As mentioned, there are many types of ataxia with the above listed being general categories. More specific types of ataxia include:
Ataxia is caused by damage to the brain, more specifically the cerebellum, which is known to control movement. Damage to the spinal cord and nerves can also lead to ataxia.
Damage to the cerebellum can occur due to injury, illness, or degeneration of the spinal cord due to faulty genes. Sometimes there is no clear cause for ataxia, thus deeming it idiopathic.
Ataxia can either be acquired of hereditary. Causes for acquired ataxia include:
Hereditary ataxia is caused by a faulty gene, which can be passed on through autosomal recessive, where the faulty genes are from both parents or autosomal dominant, where the faulty gene comes from one parent and the mutation is strong.
Depending on the type of ataxia a person has the symptoms may vary. Common symptoms of ataxia seen across many different types of the disorder include:
There is no current cure for ataxia, but treatment is available to help minimize symptoms and treat the underlying cause. A person with ataxia may require help from a treatment team that utilizes specialists from different areas, known as a multi-disciplinary team. Common members of the treatment team include a neurologist, ophthalmologist, urologist, cardiologist, physiotherapist, speech and language therapist, occupational therapist, social-worker, dietician and specialist neurology nurse.
Treatment may also be based on the underlying cause, for example, if ataxia is caused due to a deficiency, restoring levels of the deficient vitamin may help. Treatment and therapy is very specific to the individual’s needs as they work closely with their team.
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