What is ataxia?

Ataxia is the loss of muscle control and/or coordination of voluntary movements. Ataxia usually involves dysfunction or damage to the balance center of the brain, called the cerebellum. Common symptoms include vision disturbances, speech problems (slurring of words), difficulty swallowing, loss of balance and difficulty walking, and/or trouble with fine motor control (knitting, buttoning clothes).

What causes ataxia?

Ataxia can be caused by many different conditions. The most common causes are drug intoxication (including alcohol), side effects of medication such as seizure medications, strokes, tumors, inherited conditions like spinocerebellar ataxia, and degenerative diseases like Multiple Systems Atrophy.

How is ataxia treated?

At the University of Colorado Movement Disorders Center, our neurologists have expertise in the complexities of the condition and its causes. Treatment focuses primarily on identifying reversible causes (such as vitamin deficiencies) and modifying behaviors (such as alcohol cessation). Many patients with ataxia benefit from physical, occupational and speech therapy (for both speech and swallowing problems). Adaptive equipment such as canes and walkers may help maintain independence. Those with eye problems often benefit from a consultation with a neuro-ophthalmologist to discuss potential treatment options such as corrective lenses.

What can I expect?

The progression of ataxia varies widely depending on the cause of the symptoms. In most cases, the specialists will examine the ataxia patient at each visit to monitor the progression of the symptoms and disease.

Where can I learn more?