Sensory ataxia

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1] Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Luke Rusowicz-Orazem, B.S.


Sensory ataxia is both a symptom and a sign in neurology. It is a form of ataxia (loss of coordination) caused not by cerebellar dysfunction but by loss of sensory input into the control of movement.

Sensory ataxia is distinguished from cerebellar ataxia by the presence of near-normal coordination when the movement in question is visually observed by the patient, but marked worsening of coordination when the eyes are closed.

Sensory ataxia also lacks the associated features of cerebellar ataxia such as pendular tendon reflexes, scanning dysarthria, nystagmus and broken pursuit eye movements.

Patients with sensory ataxia often demonstrate pseudoathetosis and Romberg's sign. They usually complain of loss of balance in the dark, typically when closing their eyes in the shower or removing clothing over the head.

Sensory ataxia is present in sensory peripheral neuropathies and conditions causing dysfunction of the dorsal columns of the spinal cord such as tabes dorsalis.


Common Causes

Causes by Organ System

Cardiovascular Transient ischemic attack
Chemical/Poisoning Chronic arsenic poisoning, Toxic reaction
Dental No underlying causes
Dermatologic Diphtheria
Drug Side Effect Benzodiazepine
Ear Nose Throat No underlying causes
Endocrine Underactive thyroid
Environmental No underlying causes
Gastroenterologic No underlying causes
Genetic Canomad syndrome
Hematologic Brain hemorrhage, Diabetes mellitus, Glucose phosphate isomerase deficiency, Lacunar infarct, Pernicious anaemia, Vitamin e deficiency, Vitamin b-12 deficiency 
Iatrogenic No underlying causes
Infectious Disease Chickenpox, Diphtheria, Measles
Musculoskeletal/Orthopedic Spinal cord compression
Neurologic Brain hemorrhage, Cerebellar disease, Cerebral palsy, Friedreich ataxia, Guillain-barré syndrome, Hereditary sensorimotor neuropathy type 3, Multiple sclerosis, Neurosyphilis , Peripheral neuropathies, Polyradiculoneuropathy , Porphyria, Sensory neuropathy, Tabes dorsalis
Nutritional/Metabolic Diabetes mellitus
Obstetric/Gynecologic No underlying causes
Oncologic Paraneoplastic syndromes, Tumors
Ophthalmologic No underlying causes
Overdose/Toxicity Prolonged alcohol abuse
Psychiatric No underlying causes
Pulmonary No underlying causes
Renal/Electrolyte No underlying causes
Rheumatology/Immunology/Allergy No underlying causes
Sexual Neurosyphilis
Trauma [[Head trauma]
Urologic No underlying causes
Miscellaneous No underlying causes

Causes in Alphabetical Order

Further reading

  • Bastian AJ (1997). "Mechanisms of ataxia". Physical therapy. 77 (6): 672–5. PMID 9184691.

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