Ataxia is a progressive, degenerative disease of the nervous system marked by a lack of coordination, voluntary movements, or muscle control in the arms or legs. Symptoms gradually appear to affect movement and coordination, typically worsening over time.
A person diagnosed with ataxia may have symptoms affecting their fingers, hands, or arms causing difficulty with fine motor tasks such as eating, writing or button a shirt. It can also affect a person’s legs causing frequent falls because of issues with balance and/or difficulty walking.
Ataxia is caused by degeneration of nerve cells as a result to injury or chronic degenerative conditions. Stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, head injury, vitamin deficiencies, or nerve damage can contribute to the development of ataxia. As damage to nerve cells progresses, muscles become less responsive to brain commands causing symptoms to develop or worsen.
Symptoms can include but are not limited to:
A complete neurological and physical exam with thorough review of medical and family history is required in diagnosing ataxia. Bloodwork, which can include genetic testing for gene or chromosome mutations may also be ordered in addition to radiology studies.