An Overview On Ataxia by Swasti Wagh, Ataxian

Ataxia is not a disease. Ataxia is a symptom . A symptom of clumsiness in movements, symptom of loss of coordination of body parts and mal-functioning of motor nerves. Ataxia is a progressive condition. Ataxia mainly affects limbs’ movements and slowly it captures the whole body and victim becomes totally dependent . The other problems associated with the progress of ataxia are slurred speech, involuntary eye movements, vision problem, swallowing problems, cardiomyopathy, diabetes, etc .

The ataxia symptoms may be caused by different medical or neurological conditions . Broadly ataxia has no known treatment. Now a days many researches are going on and treatment for some types of ataxia have been found out. Therefore it is necessary for an ataxia sufferer to know cause and type of ataxia for getting proper medical advice .

Causes of Ataxia :

The main cause of ataxia is mal-functioning of Cerebellum . Cerebellum is a part of brain which function as ‘Coordination Center’ .It is situated towards the back and lower part of  head . The left side of cerebellum controls coordination of left side of body and right side of it controls coordination of right side of body . The central part of it is associated with the coordination of gait movements .Some parts of cerebellum are involved in controlling eye movements and tongue movements . So slight dysfunction of cerebellum may cause ataxia.

The cerebellum does not send signals directly but signals are first sent to spinal cord from where they are transmitted to required body part through different pathways . Sometimes the ataxia is caused by some errors in pathways due to which there is disturbance in transmission of signals .

There are some medical or neurological conditions which may cause ataxia . These are –

  • Head injury
  • Stoke
  • Brain hemorrhage
  • Brain tumor
  • Congenital abnormality(the back part of the brain was formed in an unusual way)
  • Post-infectios (after severe viral infection such as measles ,chickenpox etc)
  • Exposure to certain drugs or toxin (e.g. alcohol.seizure medicine)

These conditions cause ataxia to appear suddenly .

There are some other conditions which are responsible for gradual appearance of ataxia . These are –

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Deficiency of certain vitamins  (e.g. vit E , vit B 12)
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Locomotor ataxia (syphilis)
  • Hereditary disorders
  • Congenital abnormality(the back part of the brain was formed in an unusual way)
  • Unkown cause of cerebral degeneration
  • Exposure to certain drugs or toxin (e.g. alcohol.seizure medicine ,heavy metals , certain cancer drugs)

How Ataxia Is Diagnosed :

The condition of ataxia can be diagnosed by clumsiness, loss of coordinaion in arms or legs, unsteady or swaying gait, slurred speech, jerky limb movements. All these are clinical symptoms by which a doctor can say that person has ataxia. But these symptoms are not enough to know the type of ataxia. For this certain medical tests are available. These are –

  • E.C.G.
  • E.M.G.
  • M.R.I.
  • CT scan
  • Genetic testing
  • Vitamin deficiency tests

Treatment Of Ataxia :

There is no specific treatment of ataxia till now. If ataxia is caused because of stroke or vitamin deficiency or exposure to a toxic drug  then there are some drugs which can help But if ataxia is not caused by any of these resons vitamin therapy or thyroid treatment will not help. Gluten ataxia which is caused by inability to diest gluten in diet is treated by giving gluten free diet.

Physiotherapy is most important to reduce the rate of progress of ataxia. Physiotherapy also  helps to tone up muscles and improves coordination. Also speech therapy and occupational therapy are very much helpful.

Ataxia sufferer can use small devices such as cane, walker and other walking aids, devices to assist with writing, feeding and communication devices to improve quality of life.

Now a days some drugs are available which help in Friedreich’s Ataxia . Stem-cell researches are going on for cure of ataxia .

How To Help Ataxia Sufferers

Ataxia is a rare neurological condition . So number of atxia sufferers is comparatively less. Being less common and also the cost of confirmatory test being too high the early diagnosis of ataxia is very difficult . Generally in India ataxia is diagnosed when symptoms become prominent . So it becomes very difficult to control the progress of symptoms.

Ataxia patients are mentally sound but physically dependent . The sufferer clearly knows and experiences the  darkening future but can not do anything .This is extremely miserable situation which leads sufferer in deep frustration and depression . So it is very necessary to take steps to bring them out of this frustration and depression

The “International Ataxia Awareness Day” is an international effort from ataxia organisation around the world to dedicate September  25 as international ataxia awareness day.the goal of IAAD is for every individual to participate in some activity,creating awareness about ataxia.

There are some help groups which are doing valuable work for ataxia sufferers . In U.K. there is a welknown association named Ataxia U.K. and in U.S. National Ataxia Foundation. These help groups extends all necessary help to ataxia victims in their countries .

In India SAMAG is a registered society  to help ataxia victims .It aims to spread awareness about ataxia so that sufferers can get finantial ,social and moral support from society .It also aims to encourage creation of employment opportunities fot ataxian according to their ability.

Swasti can be reached on swastiwagh@gmail.com

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