By definition, ataxia is a deficit in coordination of the muscles. Usually, it appears after the center of coordination in the small brain (the cerebellum) has been damaged. As a consequence, patients might experience a slurred speech, floppiness, asynergic limbs and joints, and even more, might have a tough time in performing rapid movements, estimating the passed time or the distance to a certain object.
As you probably know already, the cerebellum is not responsible for initiating the movements (as the movements are started by the motor nuclei in the frontal lobe), but rather controls the equilibrium and the fine movements. If the cerebellum is damaged or excised, then cerebellar ataxia may/will appear, besides many other symptoms. After a while, however, the cerebrum will try to compensate the lost functions and will take over some of the functions of the small brain. It may take several months and the functions may never work 100% normal, but at least, progress will constantly be made.
What are the first symptoms of cerebellar ataxia?
Patients with this condition will experience even from the first phase:
- posture abnormalities: patients will not be able to maintain a straight upright position, nor be able to walk or run;
- fine movements problems: patients will not be able to type, write, sew or even introduce a key in a lock;
- slurred speech and difficulties in swallowing. This is why patients must always supervised when they drink, as they present a very high risk of choking;
- doubled vision and problems with reading.
- Although it’s rare, increased fatigue may represent a sign of cerebellar dysfunction. If the other health stats are found to be ok, then a neurological problem must be suspected;
- cognitive dysfunctions and problem with retaining any kind of new information. This may lead to a passive-aggressive mood and increased irritability and anxiety.
Cerebellar ataxia is not always a disease per se, but rather a consequence of another much more aggressive disease such as multiple sclerosis. This is why it’s hard to prescribe a treatment, as every patient needs something else depending on the underlying disease.