5 Things to Know About an Ataxia Diagnosis

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by Wendy Henderson |

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If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with ataxia, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed and concerned about what the future has in store. We’ve compiled a list of some of the most commonly asked questions about ataxia using information from the National Ataxia Foundation.

What is ataxia?
Ataxia comes from the Greek phrase “a taxis” which means without order or coordination. People who have ataxia tend to have bad coordination as the condition attacks the part of the central nervous system (CNS) that controls balance and movement. Ataxia can affect the body, legs, arms, feet, hands, fingers, eyes and speech.

Ataxia is the term used for a group of specific neurodegenerative diseases affecting the CNS. These can be sporadic or hereditary.

How is ataxia diagnosed?
Ataxia is diagnosed using a combination of a patient’s medical history, their family’s medical history, a detailed physical examination, and MRI scans and blood tests to rule out other disorders. There are genetic blood tests available for some forms of hereditary ataxia.

What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of ataxia vary depending on the different forms of the condition and the severity of each case. However, balance and coordination issues are usually the first signs of the disease, which can manifest into walking difficulties and problems with fine and gross motor skills. Slowed eye movements can occur in some forms of ataxia and as the disease progresses, speech and swallowing problems may be experienced. Heart problems can occur in patients with Friedreich’s ataxia.

MORE: Five major symptoms of Friedreich’s ataxia

What is sporadic ataxia?
Sporadic ataxia is where cases occur in families without any history of the condition. The symptoms often present in adulthood as opposed to childhood, which is typical of hereditary forms of ataxia. Hereditary and acquired forms of the disease need to be ruled out before the diagnosis of sporadic is given.

Ataxia as a symptom?
Ataxia (or lack of coordination and balance) may occur as a symptom of another health issue such as stroke, head injury, multiple sclerosis or even alcoholism.

MORE: Ronde Barber and Kyle Bryant talk about Friedreich’s ataxia

Friedreich’s Ataxia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.