What is Ataxia?

Ataxia is a group of rare, progressive neurological signs that affects a person's abilities with speech, walking, balance coordination and use of fine motor skills.

Ataxia can perhaps best be understood as: without coordination or an increased difficulty to control muscles, speech, movements and balance. Ataxia itself is generally not considered a disorder, but a sign of other underlying diseases or disorders. People who suffer from Ataxia lose muscle control in their arms and legs. This could progressively over time then lead to loss or lack of balance, trouble walking, slurred speech, difficulties with coordination.

Medical professionals and researchers have so far identified between 50 to 100 different types of ataxias. And due to the fact that ataxia is a neurological condition, the extent of effect is broad, complex and still not completely understood. Depending on the area of the brain most affected, different Types have been named.

  • Cerebellar Ataxia (Brain)
  • Sensory Ataxia (Nerves)
  • Vestibular Ataxia (Ears)

Cerebellar Ataxia is coined after cerebellum which is the part of your brain that is charge of coordination and balance. If this part of the brain suffers damage or progressively wears down, the person develops cerebellar ataxia. This is considered the most common form of ataxia. 

Symptoms of Cerebellar Ataxia can include:

  • Voice changes
  • Headaches
  • Slurred speech
  • Trouble walking
  • Wide gait
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Tremors 

Sensory Ataxia is often the result of damage to nerves in the spinal cord or damages to your Peripheral Nervous System. The PNS is the part of the nervous system that is outside of the brain and spinal cord. The brain and spinal cord make up the Central Nervous System (CNS).

Want to learn the differences between the Peripheral and Central Nervous Systems? 

When a person has sensory ataxia, the person has less sensation in legs and feet from nerve damage. Due to this disturbance in the sensory nervous system, your brain (CNS) has less information (sensory input) that tells the brain where you body is in relation to the ground you are on. Another term for this is proprioceptive ataxia

Symptoms of Sensory Ataxia are:

  • Difficulity when trying to touch your nose with closed eyes ("The Finger Nose Proprioception Test" or FNPT)
  • Difficulties walking with dim light
  • Stomping when walking
  • Inability to sense vibrations

Vestibular Ataxia affects the vestibular system. The parts that make up your vestibular system include your inner ear and ear canals. These structures are fluidfilled. The hairlike structures help sense the movements of your head and aid you with balance and spatial orientation. 

Symptoms of Vestibular Ataxia can include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea and vomitting
  • Staggering walk
  • Vertigo, or dizziness
  • Problems sitting and standing
  • Difficulties walking in a straight line

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