Ataxia overview

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


Ataxia (from Greek α- [used as a negative prefix] + -τάξις [order], meaning "lack of order") is a neurological sign and symptom consisting of gross incoordination of muscle movements [1]. Ataxia is an aspecific clinical manifestation implying dysfunction of parts of the nervous system that coordinate movement, such as the cerebellum Several possible causes exist for these patterns of neurological dysfunction. The term "dystaxia" is rarely used as a synonym.

Ataxia results from the involvement of cerebellar structures, or from a combination of cerebellar and extra-cerebellar lesions, especially the brainstem [2]. Ataxia can be of several types:

  • Sporadic ataxias. Ataxias of this type usually begin in adulthood and have no known family history.
  • Hereditary ataxias. These ataxias are caused by a defect in a gene that is present from the start of a person's life and can be either dominantly inherited or recessively inherited. Recessive disorders commonly cause symptoms to begin in childhood rather than in adulthood.

Risk Factors

  • Viral infections, such as chickenpox , Coxsackie virus, Epstein-Barr, or HIV
  • Bacterial infections such as Lyme disease
  • Exposure to certain toxins, such as lead , mercury , thallium, alcohol , and organophosphates found in insecticides
  • Cerebellar hemorrhage, abscess, blood clot, or obstruction of an artery
  • Para-neoplastic syndromes—occurs when the immune system attacks the cerebellum in the area of a cancer
  • Certain vaccinations.

Medical Therapy

There is no specific treatment for ataxia as such, altough there may be for the underlying cause [3]. The disability of ataxia may be reduced by physical therapy, including exercises, along with leg braces or shoe splints. If foot alignment has been affected then a cane or walker is often used in the effort to prevent falls [4]


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  1. Mariotti C, Fancellu R, Di Donato S (May 2005). "An overview of the patient with ataxia". J. Neurol. 252 (5): 511–8. doi:10.1007/s00415-005-0814-z. PMID 15895274.
  2. Ashizawa T, Xia G (August 2016). "Ataxia". Continuum (Minneap Minn). 22 (4 Movement Disorders): 1208–26. doi:10.1212/CON.0000000000000362. PMC 5567218. PMID 27495205.
  3. Klockgether T, Paulson H (May 2011). "Milestones in ataxia". Mov. Disord. 26 (6): 1134–41. doi:10.1002/mds.23559. PMC 3105349. PMID 21626557.
  4. Akbar U, Ashizawa T (February 2015). "Ataxia". Neurol Clin. 33 (1): 225–48. doi:10.1016/j.ncl.2014.09.004. PMC 4251489. PMID 25432731.