191914 Health Library | Health and Wellness | Wellmont Health System
  • Acute Cerebellar Ataxia

    (Cerebellitis)

    Definition

    Acute cerebellar ataxia is a disorder of the nervous system. It is marked by the sudden onset of a disturbance in coordination. The cerebellum is the part of the brain that plays an important role in balance and coordination. It does not function properly in the case of cerebellar ataxia.
    If you suspect you or your child has this condition, call the doctor right away.
    Cerebellum (Darker Pink Section)
    Bottom view brain
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

    Causes

    Causes of acute cerebellar ataxia include:
      Viral infections, including:
    • Exposure to certain toxins, such as lead , mercury , thallium, alcohol , and organophosphates found in insecticides
    • Cerebellar hemorrhage, abscess, blood clot, or obstruction of an artery
    • Paraneoplastic syndromes—occurs when the immune system attacks the cerebellum
    Causes of recurrent or chronic acute ataxia include:

    Risk Factors

    While it can occur at any age, acute cerebellar ataxia is most common in young children. It can occur several weeks after a viral infection, such as chickenpox . Most cases go away without treatment in a matter of months. However, recurrent or chronic progressive cerebellar ataxia does occur.
    These factors increase the chances of developing acute cerebellar ataxia:
    • Age, especially children three years of age or younger
    • Viral infections
    • Recent vaccination
    • Exposure to certain insecticides, drugs, or toxins

    Symptoms

    Do not assume the following symptoms are due to acute cerebellar ataxia. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions.
    • Uncoordinated movements of the limbs or trunk
    • Clumsiness with daily activities
    • Difficulty walking
    • Speech disturbances with slurred speech and changes in tone, pitch, and volume
    • Visual complaints
    • Abnormal eye movements
    • Accompanying symptoms may include:
      • Headache
      • Nausea and vomiting
      • Dizziness
      • Changes in mental state, such as personality or behavioral changes
      • Chaotic eye movements
      • Clumsy speech pattern

    Diagnosis

    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical and family history. A physical exam will also be done. Your limb coordination will be observed to assess the degree and nature of the ataxia.
    Further tests may include:
      You may need to have your bodily fluids and tissues tested. This can be done with: You may need to have pictures taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with: You may need to have your nerve and muscle activity tested. This can be done with:

    Treatment

    The ataxia that occurs in children can often can go away in a few months without any treatment. In cases where an underlying cause is identified, your doctor will treat the cause.
    In some cases, you may have continuing and disabling symptoms. Treatment includes:
    Drug treatment to improve muscle coordination has a low success rate. However, the following drugs may be prescribed:
    • Clonazepam
    • Amantadine
    • Gabapentin
    • Buspirone
    Occupational or physical therapy may also play a role in alleviating lack of coordination. Changes to diet and nutritional supplements may also help.

    Prevention

    There is no way to prevent acute cerebellar ataxia except to vaccinate children against viral infections that increase their risk of getting this condition.

    RESOURCES

    National Ataxia Foundation http://www.ataxia.org

    National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke http://www.ninds.nih.gov

    CANADIAN RESOURCES

    Canadian Institutes of Health Research http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca

    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

    References

    Berman P. Ataxia in children. International Pediatrics . 1999:14:44-47.

    Bradley WG, Daroff RB. Neurology in Clinical Practice . Philadelphia, PA: Butterworth Heinemann Publishing; 2004.

    Cerebellar ataxia. BBC News website. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/medical%5Fnotes/4055425.stm . Accessed February 22, 2013.

    Cerebellar ataxia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 13, 2012. Accessed February 22, 2013.

    Cerebellar ataxia. Patient UK website. Available at: http://www.patient.co.uk/showdoc/40001724/ . Accessed February 22, 2013.

    Encephalopathy. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/encephalopathy/encephalopathy.htm . Updated November 9, 2010. Accessed February 22, 2013.

    Frequently asked questions. University of Chicago Ataxia Center website. Available at: http://ataxia.uchicago.edu/FAQ.aspx. Accessed February 22, 2013.

    Ishikawa N, Kobayashi M. Recurrent acute cerebellar ataxia associated with anti-cardiolipin antibodies. Brain Dev . 2009; Aug 22.

    Mehta SH, Morgan JC, Sethi KD. Paraneoplastic movement disorders. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep . 2009;9(4):285-91.

    Ropper AH, Brown RH. Adams and Victor's Principles of Neurology . 8th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Medical Publishing Division; 2005: chap 33.

    Stumpf DA. Acute ataxia. Pediatr Rev . 1987;8;303-306

    Revision Information

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