Ataxia is a fancy way of saying that you have a lack of muscle coordination. It is more a sign of something wrong in your nervous system than a condition in and of itself. It can be caused by any number of things, MS being one of them. It describes a lack of muscle coordination while trying to do things like walking or picking up things.
It can affect your movements as well as your speech, as in slurred speech or your ability to swallow. It can also affect your eye movements. If your eyes shake when you are looking from side to side, this is a sign of ataxia.
When this symptom is persistent, this suggests there is damage to the cerebellum. Besides multiple sclerosis, there are many other things that can cause this damage. Head trauma, alcohol abuse, cerebral palsy, a tumor, or a stroke are some of the other conditions that can cause it as well.
Can it be treated? That all depends on the cause. When MS is the cause, leg braces or afo's, canes, walkers, or rollators are used to help prevent falls. If it becomes severe, a wheelchair or scooter may be necessary. Sometimes therapy, either occupational and/or physical, can also help.
If you aren't sure...
If you aren't sure if you have multiple sclerosis and are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it's probably a good idea to talk to your doctor.
- Loss of balance
- Slur your speech
- Difficulty swallowing
- Lose muscle coordination in your hand, arm, or leg
Any one of these would suggest damage to the cerebellum, which is the part of the brain that controls muscle coordination. It is located at the base of the brain near the brain stem.
What's a cerebellum?
Two ping-pong ball sized pieces of folded tissue, side by side make up the cerebellum. One on the right, one on the left. The right one controls the right side of the body. The left one controls the left side of the body.
Cir must have damage to the right side, because his right side is weaker, especially his leg. It is so weak that he also experiences foot drop. His right arm and hand also tend to get weak or lose coordination whenever he is fatigued.
So in the case of MS, demyelination of the nerves in the cerebellum, cause the ataxia. Damaged nerves cannot control the muscles very well. So if you already have multiple sclerosis, then you know the cause already.
If you haven't been diagnosed
If you haven't had a diagnosis of MS yet, your family doctor will probably refer you to a neurologist. Because there are so many reasons why you might have ataxia, the neurologist will go through a process of elimination to determine the cause.
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