Ataxia is a neurological sign consisting of a deficiency in voluntary coordination of muscle movements. It is a non-specific clinical manifestation indicating a dysfunction of the parts of the nervous system that fine-tune movement, such as the cerebellum. Various likely causes exist for these impressions of neurological dysfunction.
Signs and symptoms typically manifest between the ages of 5 and 15 years, but they appear every now and then in adulthood, and on rare cases as late as age 75. The first sign to appear is usually difficulty in walking (gait ataxia). The ataxia aggravates bit by bit and slowly spreads to the arms and the trunk. There is often loss of feeling in the limbs, which may spread to other parts of the body. Other features are loss of tendon reflexes, particularly in the ankles and knees. Most patients with Friedreich’s ataxia develop scoliosis that often requires surgical intervention as a cure.
The hereditary cases of ataxia are genetic, which means they are caused by an error in a particular gene that is present from the start of a person’s life. Every person has genes that have small variations or mistakes, but most of these do not cause disease. Hereditary ataxia can be divided into those that are dominantly acquired and those that are recessively born with.
Diagnosis is built on a person’s family history, medical history, and a full neurological evaluation, which includes an MRI scan of the brain. Various blood tests may be done to dismiss other possible disorders which may present identical symptoms. Genetic blood tests are presently available for some types of hereditary ataxia to validate a diagnosis, or as a predictive test, to decide whether someone got an ataxia gene known to involve other family members.
Medical care for ataxia depends on the underlying cause. Adaptive devices, like canes or walkers, may help you maintain your independence despite your ataxia. You might also improve from occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy.
The International Ataxia Awareness Day is celebrated every September 25th.