Cerebellar ataxia

Cerebellar ataxia is a disorder that is caused by the improper functioning of the cerebellum in the brain. The cerebellum is the part of the brain that controls and coordinates body movements. It sits at the base of the brain near the brainstem. The right part of the cerebellum controls the right side of the body. The left side of the cerebellum controls the left side of the body.

The trunk, from the neck to the hips, is typically the part of the body that is affected by uncontrolled movements when a person has this disorder. However, sometimes the arms and legs are affected also.

When the trunk of the body is affected the body will involuntarily and suddenly move from side-to-side, front to back or both. It will then move quickly back to the upright position. If the arms are affected they may involuntarily reach for things or involuntarily swing back and forth and the person is not able to control these movements.

Cerebellar ataxia can be an inherited disease or it can be caused by other things like viral infections. Non inherited cerebellar ataxia is called “Sporadic cerebellar ataxia.” This form is most common in children who are under the age of 3 and develops after having a viral infection like chickenpox, coxackie disease or mycoplasma pneumonia. It can also be caused by exposure to organ phosphate insecticides or other toxins.

Other causes of sporadic cerebellar ataxia are brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, alcoholism, toxic drugs, malformation of the cerebellum during fetal development and vitamin deficiency. When the person has developed sporadic cerebellar ataxia the symptoms are non-progressive and do not get worse over time. It can also be caused a TIA stroke, an immune response to a cancerous tumor, a non cancerous tumor that damages the cerebellum or Wilson’s disease.

The symptoms of this disorder are:

  • Sudden uncoordinated movement of the trunk or limbs of the body
  • Uneven gait and trouble walking
  • Sudden uncoordinated eye movements
  • Hearing problems
  • Problems with slurred speech and speech patterns
  • Problems swallowing
  • Changes in behavior

It may be difficult to accurately diagnose cerebellar ataxis since many other neurological disorders have similar symptoms. A brain scan (MRI) is done of the cerebellum to determine if there is damage to this area of the brain. A family history is taken to determine the hereditary factors and genetic testing is done to diagnose the condition. Diagnostic gene testing can help determine the type of cerebellar ataxia if it has been inherited. Alcohol abuse must also be ruled out. When this disorder is inherited in generally will show up early in childhood.

Once a positive diagnosis is made and the type is determined proper treatments are prescribed. If it is inherited, the proper treatment can help the person to lead a normal life by reducing the severity of the symptoms. There are no complete cures for this disorder however. The treatment for the disorder depends on the symptoms and the type. If the person has lost much control over body movement they will be given a wheelchair assessment. Physiotherapy is often helpful for people who have this disorder as well as speech therapy. If a vitamin deficiency has been determined the person is given a special diet to follow. For people who have trouble with uncoordinated eye movements or muscle spasms, certain medications can be prescribed. Non inherited cerbellar ataxia caused by a viral infection can resolve itself within a short time as the symptoms will be non progressive. You should see your doctor for a proper diagnosis if you are having balance problems, slurred speech, and difficulty in coordinating body movements or difficulty walking.

Last updated on Jan 15th, 2010 and filed under Neurological Disorders. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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