Acute cerebellar ataxia is a sudden problem with coordination and balance. It happens when the cerebellum is damaged. This is the part of the brain that controls these functions.
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In some people, the cause is not known. It others, it may be due to genetics or:
- Problems with the immune system
- Head injury
This problem is more common in young children. Other things that may raise the risk are:
- 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 some insecticides
- A history of chemotherapy
- Bleeding, abscess, blood clots, or blockage in the cerebellum
- Paraneoplastic syndromes—happens when the immune system attacks the cerebellum in the area of a cancer
- Certain vaccinations
Recurrent acute cerebellar ataxia may be marked by periods of inactivity and flares. Things that may raise the risk of this are:
Problems may be:
- Coordination problems when using the arms, legs, or trunk
- Problems walking
- Speech problems, such as slurred speech and changes in tone, pitch, and volume
- Problems swallowing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Eyesight problems, including eyes that do not move in the usual way
- Changes in mental state, such as personality or behavioral changes
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. A neurological exam may also be done.
Blood tests may be done. The fluid around the brain and spinal cord may also be tested. This can be done with a lumbar puncture.
Images may be taken. This can be done with:
Nerve function may be tested. This can be done with a nerve conduction study .
The electrical activity of the muscles may be tested. This can be done with an electromyography (EMG).
Ataxia in children may go away on its own in a few months. In others, underlying causes of ataxia will need to be treated. This may include medicine to ease swelling in the brain.
Therapy may be also needed. Options are:
- Physical therapy to help with movement
- Occupational therapy to help with everyday tasks and self-care
- Speech therapy to improve swallowing and speaking
National Ataxia Foundation http://www.ataxia.org
National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke http://www.ninds.nih.gov
Canadian Institutes of Health Research http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca
Health Canada https://www.canada.ca
Cerebellar ataxia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/cerebellar-ataxia. Accessed January 22, 2021.
Cerebellar disorders. Patient website. Available at: https://patient.info/doctor/cerebellar-disorders. Accessed January 22, 2021.
Encephalopathy information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Encephalopathy-Information-Page. Accessed January 22, 2021.
van Gaalen J, van de Warrenburg BP. A practical approach to late-onset cerebellar ataxia: putting the disorder with lack of order into order. Pract Neurol. 2012 Feb;12(1):14-24.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD
- Review Date: 12/2020
- Update Date: 01/22/2021