What’s cerebellar ataxia?

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Cerebellar ataxia is the inability to control voluntary muscle movements caused by an underlying lesion or deficit in the cerebellum. It can result from genetic or acquired factors and is usually managed with medication and physical therapy. Symptoms range from mild difficulties to chronic tremors and spasms.

Cerebellar ataxia refers to the inability to control certain voluntary muscle movements, such as walking, writing or speaking. It is usually a symptom of an underlying lesion or deficit in the cerebellum, the area of ​​the brain that coordinates motor movements. The loss of motor control associated with cerebellar ataxia can range from mild and infrequent difficulties to chronic tremors and spasms. The condition is most commonly seen in young children who have inherited deficiencies, although diseases and injuries acquired later in life can also lead to symptoms. Most people who are diagnosed with ataxia need to take medications and participate in physical therapy sessions to help them manage their condition.

Ataxia can result from any environmental or genetic factor affecting the brain. Severe viral infections, adverse drug reactions, head trauma and stroke can lead to cerebellar damage, as well as congenital deformities or inherited diseases, such as cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis. Genetic forms of the condition are most commonly seen in infancy or early childhood, while acquired cerebellar ataxia can occur at any age.

The type and severity of problems associated with cerebellar ataxia depend on the underlying cause, but most afflicted individuals experience some degree of difficulty with fine motor movements. A person may not be able to control an object, such as a pen or fork, or have trouble standing without rocking from side to side. Some individuals develop problems speaking and swallowing and may not be able to control the direction of their vision.

Doctors can usually diagnose ataxia after evaluating symptoms and conducting physical exams, but more tests are often needed to confirm cerebellar abnormalities. A neurologist may collect blood and cerebrospinal fluid samples to screen for certain diseases, autoimmune conditions, and toxins. He or she may also conduct a computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging test to look for actual lesions on the cerebellum. After confirming a diagnosis, your doctor may administer a series of movement and memory tests to determine the severity of your symptoms.

Treatment for cerebellar ataxia is typically geared towards remedying the underlying cause if possible. A patient may need to take medications to regulate how their immune or nervous system works. Most people diagnosed with cerebellar ataxia turn to physical therapists to help them learn how to maintain the highest possible levels of mobility and independence despite their disabilities. Some patients are given walkers or canes to help prevent falls, while those with more severe problems may be confined to wheelchairs.

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