Causes of Ataxia
Ataxia has many causes. It maybe hereditary. Other causes include, stroke, infection, intoxication with alcohol and drugs, tumours, multiple sclerosis, AIDS and lack of vitamins.
In some cases, ataxia may be present from birth. Such conditions include Dandy Walker syndrome, Joubert syndrome, Rhombencephalosynapsis and cerebral palsy. In other cases it may develop later in life where it may appear either suddenly or gradually.
Causes of sudden onset ataxia that appears over hours or days include -
- Stroke or trauma affecting the cerebellum or associated organs.
- Bacterial or viral infections of the cerebellum including abscess. Ataxia may occur even after infection due to inflammation, for example after chicken pox infection.
- Intoxication with alcohol and drugs such as barbiturates and phenytoin.
- High fever, seizures and migraine. This type of ataxia occurs only during the attack and is called intermittent ataxia.
Causes of ataxia that appears over days to weeks include –
- Tumours – Tumours can exert pressure on structures important in maintaining balance and coordination.
- Multiple sclerosis.
- Intoxication with mercury and some chemotherapy drugs.
- Lack of vitamin B1 and B12.
- Lack of vitamin E.
- AIDS related brain disease.
- Lyme disease.
Causes of ataxia that appears over months to years include -
- Inherited disease - Spinocerebellar ataxias, Friedreich’s ataxia, Ataxia telangiectasia, multiple system atrophy, coenzyme Q deficiency, Wilson’s disease, congenital cerebellar ataxia.
- Low thyroid hormone levels (hypothyroidism).
- Tumours - Some tumours like breast, lung and ovarian tumours as well as Hodgkin’s lymphoma can also cause ataxia. In these cases, the body produces some substances called antibodies that damage the cerebellum.
- Advanced syphilis.
- Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine 17th edition
- Brunberg JA. Ataxia. American Journal of Neuroradiology 2008; 29:1420-1422