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Guide by Condition: Ataxia

Posted by Mike Phipps on December 10, 2018

Guide by Condition: Ataxia


Ataxia is a term for a group of conditions that affect balance, coordination and speech, with symptoms affecting any part of the body and varying from person to person.

Types of ataxia

Ataxia can be divided into three broad categories, which are:

  • acquired ataxia – where symptoms develop as the result of trauma, a stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS), a brain tumour, nutritional deficiencies, or other problems that damage the brain or nervous system
  • hereditary ataxia – where symptoms develop slowly over many years and are caused by faulty genes that a person inherits from their parents; the most common type is Friedreich's ataxia
  • idiopathic late-onset cerebellar ataxia (ILOCA) – where the brain is progressively damaged over time for reasons that are unclear

What causes ataxia?

Ataxia is usually caused by damage to the brain or nervous system, due to conditions like Multiple Sclerosis, or a head injury, lack of oxygen to the brain or long-term alcohol consumption. However, ataxia can also be hereditary and a faulty gene passed on through families.

Living with ataxia

People with ataxia may find that they struggle with things like:

  • balance and walking
  • speaking
  • swallowing
  • tasks that require a high degree of control, such as writing and eating
  • vision

Symptoms can vary from person to person, and the severity of these symptoms also depends on what type of ataxia the individual is living with.

Treatment for ataxia

Most types of ataxia do not have a cure, however, support treatment and therapy can be effective in helping symptoms. Different types of therapy can include:

  • speech and language therapy to help with speech and swallowing problems
  • physiotherapy to help with movement problems
  • occupational therapy to help you cope with the day-to-day problems
  • medication to control muscle, bladder, heart and eye problems

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