What is Ataxia

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The National Ataxia Foundation states, “Ataxia is a degenerative disease of the nervous system. Many symptoms of Ataxia mimic those of being drunk, such as slurred speech, stumbling, falling, and incoordination. These symptoms are caused by damage to the cerebellum, the part of the brain that is responsible for coordinating movement. Ataxia treatment involves a combination of medication to treat symptoms and therapy to improve quality of life.

People affected by this condition may experience problems with using their fingers and hands, arms, legs, walking, speaking, or moving their eyes. This is not specific to any gender and can affect people of all ages. The age of symptom-onset can vary widely, from childhood to late adulthood. Complications from the disease are serious and oftentimes debilitating. Some types of Ataxia can lead to an early death.”

And according to the Cleveland Clinic, “Ataxia is when you have problems coordinating how your muscles work, leading to awkward, unwieldy, or clumsy movements. It’s a possible symptom with a wide range of conditions or circumstances, or it can happen as a stand-alone condition. Depending on why it happens, it’s sometimes possible to treat or reverse the effects of ataxia.”

Common Symptoms:

The symptoms can be very different from one person to the next, depending on how severe the condition is and what’s causing it. The more uncommon recessive forms of this neurological condition include sensory and spinocerebellar ataxias, cerebellar ataxia with sensory-motor polyneuropathy, and purely cerebellar ataxias. The following are some of the typical signs:

  • Balance and coordination problems: Ataxia patients may struggle to stand or walk without assistance. Additionally, they may struggle with fine motor skills like writing or sewing clothes.
  • Issues with discourse affect the speech muscles. It can be hard to speak clearly or at a normal pace.
  • Having difficulty swallowing: Some people may have trouble swallowing, which could cause them to choke or aspirate.
  • Problems with eye movement: It can be difficult to focus on objects or follow moving objects because this condition can affect the muscles that control eye movement.
  • Fatigue: As the brain works harder to control movement, people may experience fatigue more frequently than people without the condition.
  • Feeling numb or tingly: The hands and feet of some people may become numb or tingly.

Ataxia has many possible causes, including the following:

  • Genetics: Genetic mutations that are passed down from one parent are the root cause of some forms.
  • Infections: Ataxia can result from certain infections, such as viral or bacterial infections, that damage the cerebellum.
  • Head trauma: This can result from damage to the cerebellum caused by traumatic brain injuries.
  • Toxin-related exposure: Certain toxins like lead or mercury.
  • Autoimmune conditions: Damage to the cerebellum caused by autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis.
  • Stroke: Ataxia can result from a stroke that affects the cerebellum.

Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no cure at this time. But, there are treatments that can help alleviate and help manage your symptoms and enhance your quality of life. The underlying cause will determine the course of treatment.

  • Therapy for the body: Patients can improve their balance and coordination with physical therapy. Strength and flexibility-focused exercises can also help with movement and coordination.
  • Speech pathology: Speech therapy can help people improve their speech and communication skills and deal with dysphagia-related issues. Dysphagia is a condition that is portrayed as typical difficulty swallowing or transferring food and fluids from the mouth to the stomach. Some forms of pain might be associated with this.
  • Medications: Some of the symptoms, such as tremors and stiffness in the muscles, can be treated with medication.
  • The body’s treatment: People can benefit from occupational and physical therapy if it slows the progression of their condition and improves their ability to complete everyday tasks.
  • Acupuncture: By enhancing connections between the brain and the nervous system and assisting in the restoration of the healthy development of nerve and neural cells, acupuncture treatment and other TCM modalities are suitable for assisting patients with Ataxia. This means improved muscle coordination and limb function.

UPDATE:

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved omaveloxolone (Skyclarys™) as the first drug indicated for the treatment of Friedreich ataxia (FA) in adults and adolescents aged 16 years and older, Reata Pharmaceuticals announced.

The approval of Skyclarys, the first therapy specifically indicated for the treatment of FA, is an important milestone for patients affected by this disease as well as their families and caregivers, said Warren Huff, Reata’s chief executive officer.


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