Ataxia is a condition in which there is a lack of muscle control and coordination of voluntary movements, in tasks such as walking or holding things. It can look like a sign of an underlying condition. Ataxia can have an impact on different movements and can also cause difficulties with speech, eye movement and swallowing. Persistent ataxia is mostly caused by damage to the part of your brain that controls muscle coordination, called cerebellum. Other causes of ataxia include alcohol overdose, certain medications, stroke, cerebral palsy, brain degeneration, tumor and multiple sclerosis.
Ataxia can be caused due to genetic factor as well. The treatment for ataxia also depends upon the cause. One can use supporters like walkers or canes that can help you in maintaining balance on your own. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and regular aerobic exercise can also help in such cases. Onlymyhealth editorial team talked to Dr. Sreehari NR, Clinical Assistant professor, Department of neurosurgery, Amrita Hospital, Kochi, about the symptoms, causes and treatment of ataxia.
Ataxia can develop in some time or some people might experience signs suddenly. Symptoms vary from person to person depending on the type and severity of ataxia. The onset of symptoms depends upon the cause. According to Dr. Sreehari, here are the main symptoms of ataxia:
1. Walking difficulty
People suffering from ataxia might face difficulty in walking due to the damage in cerebellum. Cerebellum is a major mart of your brain responsible for coordination and movement. It can also happen due to the damage in your spinal cord. Damage in spinal cord interrupts the impulses and it blocks the pathway from brain to rest of the body.
2. Difficulty in speech
Ataxia may also result in slurred speech. Different parts of the brain are responsible for different tasks. If the damage is in the part of brain that coordinates speech muscles, the patient might have difficulty in speaking.
3. Problems in swallowing
Ataxia causes lack of voluntary movements in our muscles. A person might feel difficulty in swallowing and even chewing in a few cases. It complicates the situation because now the patient needs to be shifted to liquid diet or given food that needs minimum chewing.
4. Weak balance
People with ataxia have a weak balance because of the damage of the cerebellum.
One can use a walking cane or walker for better balance. It can get worse with time, therefore it is best to get medical attention immediately.
5. Involuntary eye movements
Along with other functions, your brain is also responsible for sending signals to your eyes. And, the damage and weak coordination can make a person experience involuntary eye movements. This symptom can be embarrassing for some people.
Muscle coordination is controlled by the cerebellum and damage or loss of nerve cells in this part of the brain leads to ataxia. This part of the brain helps in balancing, coordination, eye movements, swallowing and speech. As per Dr. Sreehari, here are the main causes of ataxia:
- Celebral palsy
Ataxia diagnosis and treatment
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If you have ataxia, the doctor will try to know the underlying cause for treatment. Along with conducting a physical examination and a neurological exam, which includes checking your memory and concentration, coordination, vision, hearing, balance, , and reflexes, the doctor will do some laboratory tests such as imaging studies and genetic testing. There is no specific course of treatment for ataxia. In some patients, treating the underlying cause is the treatment for ataxia, such as not taking certain medications that cause it. In other cases, these can help in managing the symptoms:
- Speech therapy
- Physical therapy
- Support for walking
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