Ataxia is a condition, characterized by loss of muscle control over voluntary actions like walking. The condition can also affect speech, swallowing ability, and eye movements of the individuals.
Individuals with ataxia have trouble in synchronizing motions, such as range, velocity, direction and force. Individuals with ataxia have difficulty in walking, speaking and eye movements. Different types of ataxia include Friedreich's ataxia and spinocerebellar Ataxia type 6 .
Ataxia occurs due to a dysfunction affecting cerebellum, which is a part of brain that coordinates movement. Any or all activities that cause damage to the cerebellum, can give rise to ataxia. Such conditions include cerebral palsy, brain tumor and multiple sclerosis. Ataxia can also be an outcome of head injury, brain surgery, systemic infections, paraneoplastic syndromes, transient ischemic attacks, and congenital anomalies of the cerebellum . In addition to these factors, deficiency of vitamin E or B12 can also lead to development of ataxia.
All the races and ethnicities are equally affected by ataxia. The occurrence rate is one in every one lac births. The condition occurs in both males and females equally, with no sex predilection. Death from ataxia may occur in the early adolescence or middle age depending on basic pathology .
Anatomically, the cerebellum contains 2 small folded tissues that are situated at the base of the brain. The right and left side of the cerebellum are responsible, for controlling the movements of right, and left side of the body respectively. In few forms of ataxia, the damage or degeneration of the cells of cerebellum causes gradual loss of control over the voluntary actions. Several disease conditions or traumatic events, which damage the peripheral nerves connecting the cerebellum to the muscles lead to development of ataxia.
The prognosis of ataxia is variable. It completely depends on the basic pathology.
Poor coordination and lack of control over voluntary movements are the classical symptoms of ataxia. Choreoathetosis is present in few cases . In addition, individuals with ataxia present with the following signs and symptoms:
In elderly patients sense of vibrations and position is impaired. Development of postural abnormalities is seen in few people suffering from ataxia. Inelasticity and atrophy of facial muscles, and early aging is seen in few cases due to muscle weakness and fatigue. Mental deficiency is also reported in some cases .
A preliminary examination, to find the cause behind development of ataxia is considered. In addition to neurological examination to check for the functioning, various other tests are also carried out, which include:
For ataxia, no specific treatment is available. Beta blockers can be helpful in improving fine motor movements. Antibiotics are given if needed.
Increased oxidative stress in few cases of ataxia can be decreased, by the use of antioxidants . In addition, several adaptive devices, along with therapies, can also be used to effectively manage the condition. Adaptive devices such as walking aids, communication aids, and use of modified utensils for eating are of help to individuals with ataxia.
In ataxia, regular intake of antibiotics to avoid lung and other systemic infections is proven helpful. Patients are encouraged to participate in the daily fitness programs, such as cycling, swimming, weight lifting to improve muscle strength and coordination. Regular exercise can avoid muscle contractures, and should therefore be practiced. Counseling about the disease through education programs, is provided to the family to educate them about the disease. Regular screening of cancer should be done to keep a check over malignancies .