Symptoms and Signs of Ataxia
Symptoms of ataxia include lack of coordination, unstable gait, difficulty balancing, swaying, slurring of speech, involuntary eye movements, difficulty swallowing and tremors.
Symptoms of ataxia may appear suddenly or gradually. These include –
- Lack of coordination during various activities – from eating to buttoning of shirt.
- Difficulty in balancing and unstable gait. Patient with cerebellar ataxia may try to maintain balance by walking with legs wide apart. They initially experience difficulty in maintaining balance while turning. Patients with sensory ataxia often look at their feet while walking.
- Swaying of the body from side to side.
Some people may progress to experience the following symptoms -
- Slurring of speech due to lack of coordination of facial muscles.
- Involuntary eye movement that affects vision.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Tremors while moving limbs.
The features of some hereditary ataxias are mentioned below -
Spinocerebellar ataxia is an inherited ataxia that mainly involves the cerebellum and the spinal cord. Other associated parts of the brain may also be affected. There are many different types of Spinocerebellar ataxias, each having its specific features.
Friedreich’s ataxia is an inherited ataxia that affects sensory components first. It usually appears around puberty. The patient’s initial symptoms often include imbalance, ataxia of the limbs and speech disturbance. It affects the heart and may lead to diabetes as well. Spinal and foot deformities are often seen in these patients.
This is an inherited type of ataxia that affects the cerebellum. It occurs early in children. Beside the features of ataxia, the patient also shows small, dilated blood vessels on the eye, nose or ears. The patient may develop repeated infections due to reduced immunity. Death occurs due to respiratory failure, infections or cancer.
These are hereditary ataxias that are often triggered by physical or mental stress or excitement. There are at least 6 different types of episodic ataxias. Patients experience episodes of loss of coordination and balance. They may respond to drugs such as acetazolamide and anti-seizure medications.
- Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine 17th edition
- Brunberg JA. Ataxia. American Journal of Neuroradiology 2008; 29:1420-1422