What Is Acute Ataxia?

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  • Written By: Deneatra Harmon
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2018
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Acute ataxia involves problems with muscle coordination and affects movement in the arms, hands, and legs. The medical condition, which appears suddenly, may also interfere with eye movement and speech. Damage or other abnormalities to the central nervous system often cause ataxia, with symptoms interfering with fine-motor skills. Doctors may conduct medical evaluations and neurological exams to properly diagnose acute ataxia. Common treatments for the movement disorder include different types of therapies.

A person with acute ataxia may experience difficulties with everyday motor skills such as walking, picking up items, or even swallowing food. Medical resources describe ataxia as a symptom that is either not tied to any specific disease, or it is related to a group of neurological conditions that attack normal body movement. Depending on the patient, the problem may occur suddenly or over time.

Injuries, illness, or degenerative conditions can affect the central nervous system, specifically the part of the brain that controls fine motor and muscle coordination. Stroke, spinal cord, or brain injuries, for example, can lead to acute ataxia. Patients who suffer from Lyme disease, HIV, or the Epstein-Barr virus run the risk of developing ataxia as well, and disorders that affect the central nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy, also interfere with muscle coordination. Acute ataxia may also develop as a complication of a viral illness like chickenpox.


Besides coordination problems and difficulties with daily tasks, symptoms often mimic other conditions and neurological disorders. Unsteadiness with walking, loss of balance, and slurred speech sometimes indicate ataxia. Vision problems, dizziness, headaches, as well as personality changes may also be a sign of the disorder.

A neurologist provides the tests necessary to diagnose acute ataxia. In addition to the physical exam, the doctor checks for the patient’s reflexes, balance, and muscle coordination, as well as assesses hearing, vision, and concentration and memory. Additional tests may also involve blood and urine samples, and a CT scan or an MRI of brain activity. To further diagnose ataxia, the neurologist may administer a lumbar puncture, or a spinal tap, to examine the cerebrospinal fluid that protects the brain and spinal cord.

Depending on the cause, treatment for the muscle coordination disorder ranges from nothing at all to some type of therapy. Ataxia caused by viral infections often resolves on its own, but certain drugs may be prescribed if there is an underlying cause such as stroke. Drugs such as clonazepam, buspirone, and beta blockers reportedly help with muscle coordination. Physical therapy exercises can help to improve muscle strength and steadiness, while occupational therapy assists patients with everyday tasks such as tying a shoe, handling dishes, or picking up a book. Speech therapy may also be needed to improve speaking and avoid slurring.



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