Friedreich’s ataxia (FA) is an inherited neurodegenerative disorder, that causes problems with muscle coordination (ataxia), leading to problems with movement, balance, and a range of other symptoms. There is no cure for FA, however, there are treatments for Friedreich’s Ataxia that may help control the symptoms.

Physical and occupational therapy

A physiotherapist can recommend exercises that may help maintain the use of arms and legs for as long as possible in FA patients. Physical therapy, along with speech therapy, can help improve problems with speech (dysarthria) and swallowing (dysphagia) by re-training the tongue and facial muscles.

Occupational therapists can help identify ways to make daily life easier.

Surgical procedures

Surgery may be recommended in severe cases of scoliosis, where the spine has an abnormal curvature that can be disabling. This usually is done at a relatively young age because FA increases the risk of developing heart conditions in later stages of the disease, making surgical procedures more risky.

Surgery also may be required to correct foot deformities if they cause significant pain or affect the mobility of the patient. Examples of foot deformities that may require surgery are pes cavus (where the foot has an abnormally high arch) or talipes equinovarus (or club foot, a deformity of the foot and ankle, where the foot is turned inward).

If swallowing difficulties result in the patient being unable to take in enough nutrition, a surgical procedure called gastrostomy may be recommended. This involves the implantation of a feeding tube that can be used to directly deliver nutrients to the stomach.

A pacemaker may be fitted if the patient has an arrhythmic heartbeat.

Medication

Patients with FA are at high risk of developing heart disease, and this often can lead to fatal complications. There is a range of medications available that patients with FA may be prescribed to help decrease the workload of the heart and stabilize an arrhythmic heartbeat. These include beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, and diuretics.

It is believed that damage caused by oxidative stress is involved in the progression of FA. Antioxidants, such as vitamin E, idebenone, and coenzyme Q10, that soak up the cause of oxidative stress (free radicals) may be recommended. However, it is uncertain how much clinical benefit they have in FA.

Diabetes also is common in FA patients. This can be managed with insulin treatment.

Lifestyle

Patients with FA may find it beneficial to alter their diet based on the symptoms they develop. For example, managing blood sugar levels through diet can help with controlling FA-related diabetes, and diet also may reduce some of the risks associated with heart disease.

Note: 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 other 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.