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Acute cerebellar ataxia

Definition

Acute cerebellar ataxia is sudden, uncoordinated muscle movement due to disease or injury to the cerebellum in the brain.

Alternative Names

Cerebellar ataxia; Ataxia - acute cerebellar; Cerebellitis

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Acute cerebellar ataxia in children, especially those younger than age 3, may occur several weeks after an illness caused by a virus.

Viral infections that may cause this include chickenpox, Coxsackie disease, and echovirus.

Other causes of acute cerebellar ataxia include:

  • Alcohol, medications, and insecticides
  • Bleeding into the cerebellum
  • Infection or abscess of the cerebellum
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Strokes of the cerebellum

Symptoms

Ataxia may affect movement of the middle part of the body from the neck to the hip area (the trunk) or the arms and legs (limbs).

When the person is sitting, the body may move side-to-side, back-to-front, or both. Then the body quickly moves back to an upright position.

When a person with ataxia of the arms reaches for an object, the hand may sway back and forth.

Common symptoms of ataxia include:

  • Clumsy speech pattern (dysarthria)
  • Repetitive eye movements (nystagmus)
  • Uncoordinated eye movements
  • Walking problems (unsteady gait)

Signs and tests

The doctor will ask you if you have recently been sick, and will try to rule out any other causes of the problem. A full brain and nervous system examination will be done to identify the areas of the nervous system that are most affected.

The following tests may be done:

Treatment

Treatment will depend on the cause.

  • If the acute cerebellar ataxia is due to bleeding, surgery may be needed.
  • For a stroke, medication to thin the blood can be given.
  • Infections may need to be treated with antibiotics.
  • Steroids may be needed for swelling (inflammation) of the cerebellum (such as from multiple sclerosis)
  • Cerebellar ataxia caused by a recent viral infection may not need treatment.

Expectations (prognosis)

People whose condition was caused by a recent viral infection should make a full recovery without treatment in a few months. Strokes, bleeding, or infections may cause permanent symptoms.

Complications

Movement or behavioral disorders may (rarely) persist.

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if any symptoms of ataxia appear.

References

Johnston M. Movement disorders. In: Kliegman R, Behrman R, Jenson H, Stanton B, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 597.

Lublin FD, Miller AE. Multiple sclerosis and other inflammatory demyelinating diseases of the central nervous system. In: Bradley WG, Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, eds. Neurology in Clinical Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Butterworth-Heinemann Elsevier; 2008:chap 58.


Review Date: 2/5/2011
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by Joseph V. Campellone, MD, Division of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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