Ataxia – Causes and Symptoms of Ataxia

Ataxia is a nervous system disorder where the muscles are not in proper coordination during the involuntary movements. This can affect your eye movements, speech, and the ability to swallow. This occurs due to any damage to the cerebellum which is a part of the brain that takes care of muscle coordination.

Ataxia Causes

When the nerve cells are degenerated, the control in the muscles is reduced resulting in loss of coordination. Spinal cord damage and diseases of the peripheral nerves that connect the cerebellum to your muscles also may cause ataxia. The causes of Ataxia includes:


  • When the blood supply to any part of the brain is reduced, the oxygen and nutrients also decrease and the brain cells begin to die.
  • When this process takes place, ataxia occurs.

Cerebral Palsy

  • This happens shortly after or during birth and is a group of disorders that cause damage to the brain.
  • This mainly affects the coordination of the body movements.

Head Trauma

  • Injury or a blow to the spinal cord or brain can cause sudden ataxia.

Transient Ischemic attack

  • This is mainly caused by a temporary decrease in blood supply to a part of the brain.
  • Loss of coordination in the muscles also is a sign in (TIA).

Chicken pox

  • Ataxia can rarely occur in chickenpox and in other viral infections.


  • A cancerous or non-cancerous growth on the brain can damage the cerebellum which can cause ataxia.

Toxic reaction

  • Ataxia can be a side effect of certain medicines like sedatives and phenobarbiturates.
  • Poisoning with mercury or lead also can cause ataxia.

Autosomal Recessive Ataxia

  • Genetic ataxia which is mainly inherited from a dominant gene from one of the parent.
  • Recessive gene from each parent also can cause genetic ataxia.

They include:

Friedrich’s ataxia: In this type of ataxia the damage is to the spinal cord, cerebellum and peripheral nerves. The patient is on wheelchair within 15 years after the symptoms appear.

Ataxia-telangiectasia:This type causes degeneration in the brain and other body systems. People who suffer from this disorder need a wheelchair.

Congenital Cerebellar ataxia

  • This refers to the ataxia that occurs by birth and the damage is to the cerebellum.


Ataxia mainly causes poor or no coordination between the muscles . The signs and symptoms include:

  • Change in speech
  • Poor coordination
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Unsteady walk
  • Tendency to stumble
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Difficulty with fine motor tasks like writing, eating and drinking

When to consult your doctor?

When you notice the symptoms given below, see your health care provider immediately.

  • Slurred speech
  • Lose muscle coordination in arm, hand or leg
  • Lose balance when walking
  • Difficulty in swallowing

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