Our hand-eye coordination is an important aspect of our lives and our body that we often take for granted. It is such an integral part of our daily functioning that we don’t even realize it. Your hand-eye coordination is why you can pick up a glass while reading a book, for example. So when a condition such as ataxia puts that in jeopardy, everyday life can become very difficult.
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The stress a patient feels when observing the initial symptoms of a life-changing disease can be extremely demotivating. Imagine a situation, where suddenly one day you notice that your body doesn’t respond the way you want it to. You visit your local specialist and he provides you with a stressful diagnosis.
Thanks to GoMedii, you can prepare yourself, inform yourself and deal with this condition. Read on to find out more about Ataxia and its treatment.
Diagnosed With Ataxia: What Is It?
Ataxia is a type of movement disorder, related to damage to the cerebellum. The cerebellum is the part of the brain responsible for controlling muscle coordination. Ataxia can also be caused by damage to or degeneration of the nerves around the cerebellum.
Ataxia is usually a sign of an underlying condition. Conditions that could cause ataxia to include:
- Alcohol Abuse
- Cerebral Palsy
- Brain Degeneration
- Multiple Sclerosis
To name a few.
By muscle coordination, it means that ataxia can make everyday functions difficult. This can include speech, swallowing, and even eye movement. Ataxia is rarely a condition on its own and is often caused by various underlying issues.
Today, over 100 different types of ataxia exist, caused by different underlying conditions.
Therefore in most cases, the treatment focuses on helping the patient manage the ataxia, and treating the underlying condition.
What Causes Can Lead To Ataxia?
Ataxia can be caused by inherited mutations, where children inherited a faulty gene from their parents. Ataxia can also be caused by good old’ injuries, or may even have an undiagnosable cause. Read on to find out more.
Genetic Ataxia (Inherited Ataxia)
This type of Ataxia can be passed down from parents to their children. This can happen due to mutations in the genes, leading to damaged nerve tissue. That in turn, can cause ataxia.
This kind of ataxia can be caused by either one dominant gene in one parent, or two recessive mutated genes from each parent. Either combination can lead to ataxia-like symptoms in the child.
This ataxia is contracted due to injury, or blunt force trauma of some kind that may lead to nerve damage. These causes can include:
- Head Injury
- Infections (Meningitis, HIV, Chicken Pox)
- A Side Effect of Cerebral Palsy
- Autoimmune Disorders
- Vitamin Deficiency
- Heavy Metal Poisoning
These are a few examples of conditions that can lead to brain damage or nerve damage around the cerebellum. In turn, these issues may cause ataxia-like symptoms and effects.
These are the kind of cases where an underlying cause of the Ataxia cannot be found. In such a case, treatment focuses more on managing the symptoms of Ataxia.
What Kind Of Ataxia Do I Have?
Types of Ataxia can be divided as per where it is contracted. Nerve damage could be significant in a certain part of the brain, leading to slight variations in the symptoms.
Damage in different parts of the brain can lead to different types of Ataxia. Divided based on which part of the brain is most affected, Ataxia can be:
The cerebellum is responsible for balance and coordination. If a disease or damage reaches the cerebellum, it could lead to this kind of ataxia. Some of its symptoms include:
- Chronic Headaches
- Muscle Tremors
- Slurred Speech
- Walking Problems
Damage in the nerves directly related to the spinal cord, or even unrelated peripheral nerves, can lead to this condition. Sensory ataxia leads to problems in detecting sensations from the legs or feet or both.
Due to this, the feedback from the brain informing the body where it is spacially in relation to the ground suffers. This condition is often also known as proprioceptive ataxia. Symptoms may include:
- Suffering hand-eye coordination
- Trouble feeling sensations
- Walking with a stomp or heavy step
Vestibular ataxia affects the patient’s balance and spatial orientation. Essentially, it is what helps you walk straight. This happens due to the ataxia affecting the patient’s vestibular system. The ataxia may damage nerves attached to the vestibular system, leading to symptoms such as:
- Blurred vision
- Staggering while standing or sitting
- Staggering while walking
- Inability to walk in a straight line
Diagnosing Ataxia: How Is It Detected?
The first order of business in checking the patient for ataxia includes reviewing medical history. The doctor will want to know if there is a chance of the ataxia being genetic and checks if such a family history exists. Doctors will also want information regarding any medication the patient is on or how much alcohol the patient consumes. This is because certain medications can cause ataxia as a side effect. Overconsumption of alcohol over the long term can also lead to ataxia.
Once patient history has been established, doctors will want to conduct neurological testing and physical examinations to check the patient further.
If the patient has ataxia, there will ideally be a cause behind it. The doctor will aim to figure out that cause and treat that.
After checking the patient’s mental capacities such as the patient’s memory, concentration, vision, hearing, balance, and other factors, the diagnosis will be confirmed with the help of certain laboratory tests. These tests include:
Imaging tests include an MRI or CT scan of the patient’s brain to determine potential causes. The MRI will be able to reveal any irregularities with the brain structure. This may be damage in the cerebrum or a tumor or blood clot that may be pushing against it.
Spinal Tap (Lumbar Puncture)
A needle is inserted into the patient’s spine between two vertebrae. This procedure is used to extract cerebrospinal fluid. This extract is then tested for abnormalities.
Genetic testing may be used to check if the patient’ or any of the patient’s immediate family members have the gene mutation associated with ataxias.
Complete Blood Count (CBC)
Blood tests will enable doctors to check for causes revolving around deficiency, infections, or hypothyroidism. If such an issue is found, the patient will be treated for that issue, which in turn should treat the ataxia.
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What to Expect With Ataxia Treatment
Treatments specifically for ataxia don’t exist. Since ataxia tends to be caused by underlying issues, the focus is usually on treating the issue. Further treatment may be necessary to help manage the symptoms of ataxia such as depressions, tremors, dizziness, etc.
Adaptive devices can help manage the effects of Ataxia. If the ataxia is caused by conditions such as cerebral palsy, it may not be treatable. In such a case, adaptive devices become all the more important. These can include:
- Hiking sticks to help with walking
- Modified utensils
- Communication aids
Therapies such as:
- Physical therapy to help coordination and mobility
- Speech therapy to help with speech and swallowing
Further interventions to help manage the effects of ataxia include medication. Certain types of medication can help treat ataxia symptoms such as nerve pain, cramps, depression, etc.
Ataxia is essentially the lack of motor control and coordination. Ataxia can make everyday tasks, especially finer motor skills and balance, extremely difficult to maintain. Ataxia is usually not caused by its own, and the key of ataxia treatment lies with treating underlying causes.
However, there can be cases where the underlying cause isn’t detected and the condition isn’t treatable. This is where medication and assistive devices, paired with physical therapy and occupational therapy may improve life for patients.
In case patients experience any symptoms of ataxia, they should consult their doctor or healthcare provider immediately.
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