Ataxia Explained

Ataxia is a symptom that many people experience as a result of deterioration of or damage to parts of the brain and central nervous system. This condition is particularly common in people who drink alcohol excessively, are alcoholics or are experiencing substance withdrawal.

When individuals undergo detoxification from drugs or alcohol, withdrawal symptoms are likely to occur. Detoxification involves slowly reducing substance intake until an individual is no longer dependent on it and can function without it. Although detoxification is executed gradually to limit risky withdrawal symptoms, it is likely patients will still endure withdrawal symptoms such as ataxia.

What Is Ataxia?

The term ataxia refers to a group of disorders that cause issues with balance, coordination and speech. Ataxia usually occurs as a result of damage to the cerebellum in the brain. However, damage to other parts of the central nervous system can also cause ataxia symptoms. It is also possible for ataxia to be hereditary.

Not all types of ataxia are permanent and some varieties of the condition last only days or weeks, whereas some people will experience ongoing ataxia symptoms. However, all forms of ataxia are considered a neurological sign that the central nervous system is being compromised in some way.

Types of Ataxia

There are many types of ataxia and therefore the conditions are split into three broad categories: acquired ataxia, hereditary ataxia and idiopathic late-onset cerebellar ataxia.

Acquired ataxia refers to types of ataxia in which the symptoms have developed as a result of trauma, a stroke, brain tumours or nutritional deficiencies.

Hereditary ataxia is a type of genetic ataxia that is characterised by slow-onset symptoms that may take years to develop and gradually deteriorate. The most regularly documented form of hereditary ataxia is Friedreich’s ataxia.

Idiopathic late-onset cerebellar ataxia is a form of the condition in which the brain is slowly damaged over time for no clear reason.

Causes of Ataxia

As there are many types of ataxia, there are numerous causes for the condition. All types of ataxia are caused by damage, degeneration or a loss of nerve cells in the cerebellum, which is responsible for muscle coordination in the brain.

The conditions that can cause this damage include strokes, head trauma, infections such as chickenpox, autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy. Additionally, external factors such as nutrient deficiencies, toxic reactions or reactions to particular medications can cause ataxia. Alcohol and drug intoxication or withdrawal are also responsible for causing ataxia.

In some cases, there is no found cause for ataxia in patients who develop sporadic ataxia.

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Symptoms of Ataxia

Ataxia can impact any part of the body, although it is most common for people to experience problems with balance and walking, which may cause them to stumble or have an unsteady gait. Having difficulty swallowing, eating or writing or talking with slurred speech are also frequently observed symptoms of ataxia.

Other common symptoms of ataxia also include headaches, tremors and dizziness. In some cases, patients may also develop the condition nystagmus, which causes rapid involuntary back-and-forth eye movements.

Children with ataxia may also experience frequent infections or spider veins in the whites of their eyes or ears.

Ataxia conditions are on a spectrum, and therefore the severity of each symptom will differ from person to person.

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