Friedreich's ataxia is a genetic disorder that causes certain nerve cells to deteriorate over time. The disorder may affect the heart, certain bones and cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.
One of the characteristic of the illness is walking difficulty. Those with Friedreich's ataxia have shaky movements of the legs (called gait ataxia) during childhood or early adolescence. Over time, patients may develop bony deformities of the spine and feet. Loss of sensation in the limbs, speech problems, abnormal eye movements, heart disease and diabetes are among other complications.
As of now, there is no specific treatment for Friedreich's ataxia. The treatment strategies focus on relieving symptoms, keeping the condition from getting worse and prolonging life. The treatment for Friedreich's ataxia may include physical therapy, occupational therapy and surgery to correct bony deformities
Medication for heart disease, beta-blockers, such as metoprolol (Lopressor), and calcium channel blockers, such as verapamil (sold under several brand names) are also part of the treatment. Health care providers may also use antioxidant substances, such as vitamin E, to delay disease progression. Friedreich's ataxia treatment may also focus on treatment to lower blood sugar and a modified diet, together with oral anti-diabetic drugs or insulin.
The prognosis of Friedreich's ataxia depends on many factors, particularly when symptoms start, complications and medical care. Typically, people with the disorder are confined to a wheelchair within 15 to 20 years after their symptoms begin. Sometimes, death in adulthood is common (usually from heart disease). Good medical care is the key for those with less severe condition; it can help people live into their sixties or seventies.
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