Pediatric Ataxia

Pediatric Ataxia

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Summary

Pediatric ataxia is degenerative disease of the nervous system that impacts muscle coordination.

Expanded overview

Ataxia is a general term to describe the loss of key muscle functions like walking, speech, coordination or eye movement.

Ataxia can affect a person at any age, and diagnosis can occur anytime between childhood and adulthood. The complications can be serious and life-threatening.

Causes

Causes of ataxia may include:

  • Autoimmune diseases (multiple sclerosis, sarcoidosis and celiac disease)
  • Brain tumor 
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Congenital cerebellar ataxia (damage present at birth)
  • Head trauma
  • Infections (like chickenpox)
  • Paraneoplastic syndromes (rare, degenerative disorders triggered by a response to a cancerous tumor)
  • Stroke
  • Toxic reaction (due to barbiturates, sedatives or chemotherapy)
  • Vitamin E, vitamin B-12 or thiamine deficiency
  • Hereditary ataxias (including Ataxia-telangiectasia, episodic ataxia, Friedreich's ataxia, spinocerebellar ataxias and Wilson’s disease)

Types

Experts have acknowledged between 50 to 100 distinct types of ataxias. There are three main classifications:

  • Cerebellar ataxia – This type is caused by damage to the cerebellum (part of the brain in charge of balance and coordination). This is the most common form of ataxia and it can also impact the spinal cord.
  • Sensory ataxia (proprioceptive) – This type is caused by damage to the spinal cord nerves or peripheral nervous system (nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord).
  • Vestibular ataxia – This type is caused by damage to the inner ear and canals, which contain fluid and help keep balance.

Symptoms

Symptoms of ataxia differ by type:

Cerebellar ataxia

  • Behavioral changes
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Low muscle tone
  • Muscle tremors
  • Slurred speech
  • Voice changes
  • Trouble with walking and coordination
  • Wide stance

Sensory ataxia (proprioceptive)

  • Inability to touch finger to nose when eyes are closed
  • Stomping or walking with a heavy tread
  • Trouble walking in dim lighting
  • Unable to sense vibrations

Vestibular ataxia

  • Blurred vision 
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Problems standing and sitting
  • Trouble walking in a straight line

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