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Acute Cerebellar Ataxia

(Cerebellitis)

Definition

Acute cerebellar ataxia is a disorder of the nervous system. It is 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.

Cerebellum

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Causes    TOP

Acute cerebellar ataxia may be caused by genetics, viral infections, autoimmune disorders, or injury. In some cases, the cause is unknown.

Risk Factors    TOP

Acute cerebellar ataxia is more common in young children, but it can occur at any age. Other factors that may increase your risk of acute cerebellar ataxia include:

  • Viral infections, such as chickenpox, Coxsackie virus, Epstein-Barr, or HIV
  • Bacterial infections such as Lyme disease
  • 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 in the area of a cancer
  • Certain vaccinations

Recurrent acute cerebellar ataxia may marked by periods of inactivity and flares. Factors that may increase your chance of recurrent acute cerebellar ataxia include:

Symptoms    TOP

Acute cerebellar ataxia may cause:

  • 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
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Changes in mental state, such as personality or behavioral changes
  • Chaotic eye movements
  • Difficulty swallowing

Diagnosis    TOP

You will be asked about your symptoms, and your medical and family history. A physical exam will be done.

Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:

Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

Your nerve function may be tested. This can be done with a nerve conduction study.

The electrical activity of your muscles may be tested. This can be done with an electromyography (EMG).

Treatment    TOP

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, the cause will be treated.

In some cases, you may have continuing and disabling symptoms. Treatment includes:

Occupational or physical therapy may also be needed. Changes to diet and nutritional supplements may also help.

Prevention    TOP

There are no current guidelines to prevent acute cerebellar ataxia. You can make sure that your child's vaccinations are up to date. This can prevent 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

References:

Cerebellar ataxia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T901170/Cerebellar-ataxia. Updated November 24, 2014. Accessed November 8, 2017.
Cerebellar disorders. Patient UK website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated July 29, 2014. Accessed November 8, 2017.
FAQ. University of Chicago Ataxia Center website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed November 8, 2017.
Ishikawa N, Kobayashi M. Recurrent acute cerebellar ataxia associated with anti-cardiolipin antibodies. Brain Dev. 2010;32(7):588-591.
Mehta SH, Morgan JC, et al. Paraneoplastic movement disorders. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep. 2009;9(4):285-291.
NINDS encephalopathy information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Encephalopathy-Information-Page. Accessed November 8, 2017.
Stumpf DA. Acute ataxia. Pediatr Rev. 1987;8(10):303-306.
Last reviewed November 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 12/20/2014

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