The Day I Got Ataxia, Jan. 19th 2007

Okay so the title is a little misleading.  That date is actually the first day that I realized that something was seriously wrong with me and also the first time this thing put me into a hospital.

My Early Ataxia Symptoms:

In the few weeks leading up to that Friday, I had a few episodes that seemed like I might be having some sort of blood sugar issues.  I had some instances of feeling “light headed” shaky and unstable.  Eating a snack (usually ice cream) seemed to help the feeling to pass.  I have no diabetes history nor none that I was aware of in my family history.  So, I made myself a mental note to monitor my eating habits and the “episodes” and if they got worse I’d visit with my family doctor about it.

On my way to work that Friday I had another attack.  My job at the time was that as a “Schwans Guy.”  I drove a good sized truck around town delivering frozen foods to my customers.  It was a type of route sales position.  Schwans is well known for their ice cream so I had a bunch of it on my truck.  I inhaled a couple of ice cream bars and was able to muddle my way through my morning preparations and set off to my customers, not smart.

Within a few minutes of leaving for my route I had another attack.  I knew that I was unsafe to drive my route so I returned to the depot and along the way phoned my manager that I was coming back and would need a ride to the emergency room.

My Ataxia and Stupid Doctors at the hospital:

When we got to the hospital I was very shaky and unstable.  I told them that I wasn’t sure but thought that I might be having some sort of sugar event.  The staff went straight to work on me.  Tests and lots of them.  Man I hate needles.  I am a needle wimp.  The doctors focused in on the fact that I was a heavy drinker and tried to convince me that I was suffering from alcohol withdraws.  I wasn’t buying that.  After all it had been less than 12 hours since my last drink.  How could I be in withdraw?  Yes, I’ll come back to the question of my drinking habits in a future post.

Lots of doctors.  Over the weekend I saw many doctors.  They kept coming back to my drinking.  Except for the Cardiologist, he was fixated about my smoking.  He annoyed me and I annoyed him when I took a wheel chair outside to have a cigarette.  A couple of years later he saved my life.  He still annoys me about my smoking and I still annoy him.

The weekend of poking ended with my being sent home on Sunday.  The doctors told me that there were two possibilities that they were considering.  The first was that I suffered a TIA (baby stroke) that left no evidence or that I had damaged my brain with a lifetime of heavy drinking.  You can probably guess which one they were believing and which one I was believing.

Something weird about leaving that hospital.  I was still shaky and the attending doctor told me that I had to have a shot of Valium before I went home.  She told me the doctor in charge ordered the Valium and my choice was take the shot or wait until Monday and talk to him.  I took the shot.  Did I mention that I really hate needles?  The Valium calmed me down, it also took out my gross motor skills completely.  The orderly had to lift me into our truck.  I was pissed but I really wanted to go home.  So, my wife Marcia took me home.

That enough for my first post.

My idea of “going public” was sparked when Marcia and I attended an Ataxia support group meeting this past weekend and discovered that we are not alone.

Visit The National Ataxia Foundation (NAF) they have a ton of information and a list of many support groups.

This blog is for my readers.   The content will be a little about my story.  A little bit about answering any questions offered in folks comments,  And, a little bit from any guests that might wish to contribute their own stories.

My Ataxia symptoms Present themselves:The Early Days

I mentioned in my “The Day I Got Ataxia” post that I have found an Ataxia  support group a couple of hours away via the National Ataxia Foundation (NAF) website.  Beyond the simple realization that Marcia and I weren’t alone in living with ataxia, having the chance to visit with others and ask about their ataxia symptoms was a huge relief.  So, in my effort to help others that are where I was just a couple of weeks ago I’m going to try and describe the ataxia symptoms that I have experienced.

I also should point out that as of today my ataxia has not been properly diagnosed, which is to say that I haven’t found a doctor that specializes in treating ataxia yet.

My Ataxia Symptoms as they roll off the top of my head:

Ataxia Tremors.

We call it my feeling “shaky.”   My ataxia tremors are nearly always with me at some level.  At least while I’m awake.  Internally I feel just that, “shaky.”  At it’s best I feel jittery inside.  Kind of like the feeling I had as a child sitting outside of the school principals office waiting to be called in to answer for whatever I had done that day.  Or later waiting “for my father to get home” and having to answer for misbehaving.  For the normal people, try and imagine having this feeling every waking moment.

At its worst I can hardly hold a glass.  As with most of my ataxia symptoms, my ataxia tremors “roller coaster” I have good days and bad days.  The cycles are actually more like good and bad weeks or months.

In the beginning my cycles were of a declining nature.  Since I stopped drinking alcohol we’ve seen improvement.  I failed to (chose not to) keep a journal so some of the specifics are cloudy.

We adapted to my ataxia tremors by adjusting little  daily activities.  I no longer use glassware at home.  I have a good sized plastic tumbler.  I hold my “glass”  with my little finger curled under it so that it can’t slip out of my hand as easily.  Sometimes I use both hands.  On real bad days I use both hands, both little fingers and prop my elbows on the table for extra support.  Throughout the day I drink a lot of water sitting here at my desk.  Trying to carry my tumbler full of water from the kitchen to my desk is not an option.  So,  I have a couple of 2 liter soda bottles that I keep near me and drink straight from.  I gave up on the idea of trying to fill my tumbler from the bottles long ago.  I drink so much water that I go through my 2 bottles quickly.  I also need quite a few bathroom breaks so I pick a bathroom trip where I feel pretty good and fill my bottles back up.

After enough of my complaining about my ataxia tremors actually become a quality of life issue my doctor put me on a low dosage of Oxazepam, I called them my calm down pills.  That helped a little.  I could feel some relief within about 30 minutes but the effects only lasted for about 3 hours.  I was only allowed 3 per day so I took them early in the day and drank at night.  Alcohol also seemed to provide me relief.  But we had a rule of no drinking until 5pm or until Marcia got home whichever was later.

Busy events also seem to worsen my ataxia tremors.  Loud crowded places made it worse.  The biggest issue with going somewhere was that we simply would not know how I was going to be feeling until it was literally time to go.  We “pushed it” a few times just so the family could witness my having a “bad day.”  Most of them got the idea and came to except that sometimes could participate in events and sometimes we couldn’t.

By and large I would say that my ataxia tremors have been mostly an inconvenience.  On “bad days” a terrible inconvenience.

My Ataxia Gait Problems:

 “I’m not drunk, I have Ataxia” that has become a joke within our community.

Once whatever I have that caused my ataxia reared it’s head in Jan. ’07, my ataxia symptoms advanced very quickly.  Within weeks, if not days, I knew I wasn’t going back to work any time soon.  I digressed from having to hold on to things in order to get around the house to using a cane quickly.  To using a cane and holding Marcia’s hand.  Finally to a wheel chair.  That just pissed me off.  My calm down pills helped for a time but not enough.  My doctor refused to increase my dosage, he was concerned that I wasn’t really supposed to be taking them while I was still a drinker.

I’ll try to explain the feeling.

Imagine the feedback loop of information required for our brain to tell our feet and legs to move and then the brain processing the input signals from all over our body that we’re moving.  My signals are messed up.  My brain can tell my feet and legs to move and they won’t and when they do it’s an un-study motion.  I get “stuck” and require a gentle tug on my hand by Marcia to get started.  Not a lot, just enough to get me moving.

Then the input back to my brain is also messed up.  My feet and legs feel “thick” maybe “muddy.”  I don’t feel comfortable wearing shoes.  I miss the input from my bare feet.   Plus, the little extra thickness of the soles is enough to lessen the signal it’s even worse with the soft soles of sneakers.  Actually, I like to wear those “hospital socks” with the rubber stuff on the bottom.

I also have ataxia visual input issues.  Shiny floors just freak me out!  That’s a bad thing for a retired sailor.  Guess what the VA Hospital and the Regional Naval Hospital have in common?  Lots of the shiniest damn floors that I’ve ever seen.  Any active duty NCO’s reading this, trust me, some day you may regret ever saying “I want to see my face in that floor.”  If it’s wet too?  Forget it, I’m done!  Even rain messes me up.  In my bad days we couldn’t go anywhere if it was raining unless it was a true emergency.  Even in a bit of remission today it’s still a challenge.  Is that psychological?  Almost certainly it is but, it’s my reality and the grip of fear simply locks my body up.

My doctors have so far been largely useless in direct regard to my ataxia.  Most of them, with the exception of 2 Neurologists that were way too impressed with themselves, have been nice enough people but just not experienced in treating ataxia symptoms.

The only consensus has been to do what my physical therapist tells me to do.  So, fairly early on I got a therapist.  Cathie Gillespie of Personally Fit, Inc is my PT.  She’s actually one of the owners of PF.  She’s also my other hero (behind Marcia who watches me like a mother doberman protecting me).  Cathie makes me do all kinds of silly stuff.  She pushes me constantly forcing me to do more than I would without her nagging (encouragement).  Cathy seems to know just how far to go to in keeping me challenged and moving forward.

If you don’t have a PT you must get one.  They may not know exactly why you have ataxia either but, they really don’t need to know why.  They only need to know how to motivate and help you to get and keep moving.  I’d recommend finding a woman that has children.  It’s harder to get stuff over on a mother.  Seriously, find one that you like.  Going to PT is not always going to be fun and I would not continue to go to someone I didn’t like.

Ataxia Fatigue

This one got my attention early on.  We got home from the store one day.  I carried a 20 pound bag of cat litter from our driveway to the shed out back.  Our house is on a standard residential lot so it’s about 100 feet or so.  I felt like I had run a couple miles, just worn out.

Again it’s a roller coaster.  Using a trip to the Naval Hospital for reference, I’d say that from the parking lot to where we usually go is maybe 300 yards.  Most times I would have to stop and lean against the railing several times.  On our last visit I made to the whole way without stopping or even touching the railing.  Just my cane and holding Marcia’s hand, of course she had to ask me to loosen my grip a few times along the way.

Ataxia and slurred speech

A feeling of a thickening of my tongue and slow movement of my jaw.  If I’m tired or stressed and talk for to long.  I just slow down and let it pass.

Elevator Head Ataxia

I made up that name but it describes one of my symptoms.  Imagine the feeling of an old time elevator going up and stopping on an upper floor.  Not the stomach one but your head still moving up and then settling.  Or maybe the sensation of walking on a large boat or small ship rolling with the waves.  I have that sensation pretty constantly.

I’m looking for comments from others about their own experiences especially if anyone can add anything that I missed because we’re all different.

Why This Ataxia Blog?

I need to address this early on.  Now!

What is my goal with this Ataxia website?

My goal is very simple.  I want to help people, like myself, that have been struggling with Ataxia.  I also want to help friends and family members of those that have Ataxia.  The normal cliche would be that if I could help just one person that I would be happy.  Bull, I want to help 100’s maybe even 1000’s as time goes by.

After over 5 years of experience with my own Ataxia, I am qualified to try to help others.  Actually, my personality requires me to feel obligated to try and help others.  I have this belief that if I can do something then I should do something.

How do I think that I can help others with Ataxia?

I’m just a regular guy.  I am pretty smart though.  My background is largely military, I’m a retired Navy Senior Chief in the avionics field.  I excelled at breaking down complex issues and translating them to my superiors and my troops.  Ataxia is a complex issue, also it can be a highly emotional and frustrating one.  I’ve been in your shoes in fact I still am.  The past 5 years have been both a physical and an emotional roller coaster for me.  I understand how you feel and what you’re going through.

I just reread what little I’ve written so far, man there’s a lot of “I’s.”  This project isn’t meant to be about me,  it’s meant to help you.

But, I (did it again) need your help.  I need some others to step up and contribute so this site can be about more than just me.  I’ll be looking for other Ataxia sufferers that might be willing to share their stories.  Maybe some of the organizers of local support groups might want to pitch in.  Finally, this could be a big one, there might be some medical professionals specializing in Ataxia that could contribute information about their work.  The average doctor is largely unfamiliar with treating Ataxia successfully, at least in my experience.

That’s enough for a start.  I can’t build this in one day.




is this thing on?



Coping with Ataxia

Have you seen or heard this word Ataxia before? It is very likely that you have, and there is an even bigger chance that this is the very first time you’ve really read something about this medical condition. Yes, in case you were wondering Ataxia is a medical condition.

What Is Ataxia?

A person diagnosed with ataxia has a neurological sign that shows indicates that there is a cerebral dysfunction. Many times a person who has ataxia is considered “drunk” because of how the disease affects them.

How Is Ataxia Manifested?

Ataxia is the lack of muscle coordination which can affect speech and eye movements even walking and picking up objects can be affected. The most observable evidence that a person has Ataxia is usually by the way he or she walks. When a person has Ataxia, there is lack of voluntary coordination in his or her movements.

Three Types of Ataxia

There are three types of Ataxia: Cerebellar, Sensory, and Vestibular. Cerebellar Ataxia happens when the cerebellum malfunctions. The cerebellum is responsible for coordinating the movements of the body. Sensory Ataxia is caused by the malfunction of the spinal cord’s dorsal column. A person with sensory ataxia losses sensitivity to specific body parts and joint positions, and many times has difficulty keeping and maintaining stability in his or her posture. The third type is called Vestibular Ataxia which is the result of the malfunction of the vestibular system, the system responsible for balance and spatial orientation. A person with vestibular ataxia is not able to maintain balance.


Can ataxia be treated? It can to varying degrees of success, but it all depends on the original cause of the ataxia. If, for example, a person has ataxia because of a stroke or a benign tumor, then the likelihood for recovery is high, of course with the proper intervention. If the person has ataxia as a result of a degenerative neurological condition, medical experts are saying that recovery may not be as simple.

Treatment of ataxia involves three interventions: pharmacological, physical therapy, and occupational therapy.

As the name suggests, pharmacological treatment uses medications to manage the movement disorders in people with ataxia.

Physical therapy focuses on helping the person affected with ataxia regain the use of his or her limbs through slow yet consistent physical activities. A professional and licensed physical therapist (also known as PT’s) assists the patient in relearning and retraining specific functional motor skills.

Occupational therapy helps the person affected with ataxia “go on with their lives”. Occupational therapists are health professionals with the goal of helping patients affected with ataxia prepare for what lies ahead in their lives. For example, occupational therapists assist the patient in identifying his or her new goals in life considering his or her condition. These therapists play a significant role in the recovery of people with ataxia as they help them see and know that it is not the end of the world; that they can still continue to live ordinary lives and be happy. Through the help of occupational therapists, people affected with ataxia are given hope that they still can enjoy life as long as they are willing to adapt to the necessary changes that will be required from them. Occupational therapy intervention includes helping and assisting develop the patient’s capacity to carry out every day activities.

Lastly, it is very essential that people with ataxia will be emotionally supported by those who love them. Far more than medication and exercise and goal setting, it is critical that a person with ataxia is made to feel that there is still hope even with the condition being experienced. Hope, after all, is a beautiful thing, which should be given freely to those who need it the most.

Joffrey Drummond is a sought after writer for, specializing in health/fitness, medical technology, and online marketing. He currently resides in Phoenix, AZ, with his dog Ralph and you can connect with Joffrey via his LinkedIn here

What is Ataxia

I had a “normal” friend of mine suggest to me that I should have included a post explaining what is Ataxia.  I initially balked at the idea thinking that those that have it know what Ataxia is and so do those close to them.

But, when I considered just how frustrated and confused I was in the beginning when I was searching for any meaningful answers.  Coupled with the occasional, “yeah right” attitudes from a few insensitive members of my extended family I decided to add this post.

I didn’t really feel qualified to try and tackle the explanation by myself so I enlisted the help of another “normal” friend to put this together for me.  Her name is Denise, she is a professional writer.  I think Denise did a great job…

What is Ataxia?

Ataxia is commonly understood to be a lack of muscle coordination, which may affect speech, eye movements, the ability to swallow, walking, picking up objects and other voluntary movements. Persistent ataxia symptoms in a person may indicate damage in the part of the brain that controls muscle coordination – the cerebellum. Ataxia is known to be the result of several causes, which can make diagnosis difficult. A few different causes include Multiple sclerosis, head injury, stroke, alcohol abuse, stroke, faulty genes, tumors, or cerebral palsy. Ataxia in coordination may also be as the result of an infection.

It is important to remember that Ataxia is a symptom and may occur as a result of many different underlying conditions such as those previously mentioned. Other kinds of Ataxia may be inherited caused by a faulty gene which is passed down through families or non-inherited (sporadic).

The most common inherited progressive ataxia worldwide is Friedreich’s ataxia, which is caused by a defect in the gene. Other faulty genes are responsible for at east 30 other types of inherited Ataxia.

Research continues to identify other genes, which cause inherited cerebellar ataxias to discover how they exert their effects. There are a wide array of causes both inherited and non-inherited and the diagnostic process may be lengthy and drawn out depending on the personal situation of individuals. There are still many people who do not have a specific diagnosis for their ataxia because the cause is elusive and judged on a case-by-case basis.  New forms of Ataxia continue to be discovered as scientific techniques improve.
Ataxia has an awareness program and International Ataxia Awareness Day is observed on 25th September every year.

The most simple description of Ataxia according to Medilexicon’s Medical Dictionary is: “ An inability to coordinate muscle activity during voluntary movement; most often results from disorders of the cerebellum or the posterior columns of the spinal cord; may involve the limbs, head, or trunk.”

The term Ataxia may also be broadly used to indicate a lack of coordination in any physiological process, which would typically include a lack of coordination between visual inputs and hand movements or ataxic respiration, which is uncoordinated respiratory movements, usually due to dysfunction of the respiratory centers.

For people whose symptoms are caused by injury or illness, symptoms often improve over time, and eventually go away completely.
The word “Ataxia” as it is known in English is from the Ancient Greek word ataksia meaning “disorder”. The Ancient Greek word taksia means “order”.

Types of ataxias

Cerebellar ataxia

This type of ataxia is caused by a dysfunction in the region of the brain, which is involved, with the assimilation of sensory perception, coordination and motor control. When dysfunction is present, Cerebellar ataxia causes some basic neurological problems, such as:

•    Floppiness Lack of co-ordination between organs, muscles, limbs or joints
•    Impaired ability to control distance, power, and speed of an arm, hand, leg or eye movement
•    Difficulty in accurately estimating how much time has passed
•    An inability to perform rapid, alternating movements

Depending where lesions in the brain occur (one side or both sides), the affect on the sufferer will vary. The balance and eye movement control may be affected. In addition, the sufferer will usually stand with feet wide apart in order to gain better balance and avoid swaying backwards and forwards. Even when the eyes are open, the Ataxia sufferer will find it difficult to balance when the feet are together.
If the spinocerebellum is affected the patient will have an unusual gait, with unequal steps, sideways steps, and uncertain starts and stops. This part of the brain regulates body and limb movements.

If the cerebrocerebellum is affected the patient will have problems carrying out voluntary, planned movements. The head, eyes, limbs, and torso may tremble as voluntary moves are carried out. Speech may be slurred, with variations in rhythm and loudness.

Sensory ataxia

This is ataxia due to loss of proprioception. This is the sense by which the relative position of neighboring parts of the body is recognised. It is a sense that indicates whether the body is moving with the required effort, and also where the various parts of the body are located in relation to each other. Someone without Ataxia would be able to be blindfolded and still know where their limbs are in relation to the rest of their body for example even though they cannot see because of the blindfold they still know their arm is up in the air or hanging by their side.

A person with sensory ataxia usually has an unsteady stomping gait, with the heel striking hard as it touches the ground with each step. If lighting is poor, this instability becomes worse. Typically, a person with sensory ataxia will be much worse when a doctor asks if they can stand with their eyes closed and feet together. This is because loss of the proprioception makes the ataxia sufferer much more reliant on visual cues and images. Ataxia patients may find it hard to perform smoothly coordinated voluntary movements with the limbs, trunk, pharynx, larynx, and eyes.

Vestibular ataxia

The vestibular system is affected. In acute (sudden) unilateral cases, the patient may experience vertigo, nausea, and vomiting. In slow-onset chronic bilateral cases, the patient may only experience unsteadiness, giddiness.

What are the symptoms of ataxia?

Symptoms may vary depending on the severity and type of ataxia, of which there are many. If the ataxia is caused by an injury or another health condition, symptoms may emerge at any age, and may well improve and eventually disappear.

Initial ataxia symptoms usually include:

•    Poor limb coordination.
•    Dysarthria – slurred and slow speech that is difficult to produce. The patient may also have difficulties controlling volume, rhythm, and pitch.

If the ataxia advances, other symptoms may also appear:

•    Swallowing difficulties, which may sometimes result in choking or coughing?
•    Facial expressions become less apparent.
•    Tremors – parts of the body may shake or tremble unintentionally.
•    Involuntary rapid rhythmic repetitious eye movement. Movements may be vertical, horizontal, or circular.
•    A foot with too high an arch.
•    Cold feet – because of a lack of muscle activity.
•    Balance Problems
•    Walking difficulties
•    Vision problems.
•    Hearing problems.
•    Depression (as a result of having to live and cope with the symptoms)

What are the causes of ataxia?

Vitamin B12 deficiency – as well as other neurological abnormalities, vitamin B12 deficiency can cause overlapping cerebellar and sensory ataxia.

Ataxia can be a symptom of another health condition; it can also be inherited or non-inherited.

Inherited ataxia

This means the ataxia is caused by a genetic fault inherited either from the mother or father, or both. A faulty gene that is passed down through generations can cause cerebellar ataxia – in some cases its severity worsens from one generation to the next and the age of onset gets younger. This type of worsening inherited ataxia is known as anticipation.

The chances of inheriting ataxia from a parent depends on the type of ataxia that parent has. For a person to develop Friedreich’s ataxia the faulty gene would need to be carried by both the mother and the father (recessive inheritance). Spinocerebellar ataxia, on the other hand, only requires one parent to carry the defective gene (dominant inheritance), and each of his/her offspring would have a 50% risk of developing the condition.

Non-inherited ataxia

Even without a family history of ataxia some people may still develop the condition. In some cases, experts never find out what the cause was. The following procedures and circumstances can cause ataxia:

•    Brain surgery.
•    Head injury.
•    Alcohol abuse.
•    Drug abuse.
•    Infections, such as chicken pox (usually goes away after infection has gone).
•    A brain tumor.
•    Exposure to toxic chemicals.
•    Multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and some other neurological conditions.
•    Malformation of the cerebellum while the baby is still in the womb.

How is Ataxia diagnosed?

A doctor who suspects the patient may have ataxia will refer him/her to a neurologist – a doctor specialized in diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of conditions and illnesses related to the nervous system.

The specialist will check the patient’s medical history for cause factors, such as brain injury, as well as the patient’s family history for indications of inheritance. The following tests may also be ordered:
•    MRI or CT scan – to determine whether there is any brain damage.
•    Genetic tests – to determine if the ataxia is inherited.
•    Blood tests – some types of ataxia affect the make up of blood.
•    Urine tests – urinalysis may suggest specific abnormalities that are linked to some forms of ataxia.

It is sometimes difficult to diagnose a specific cause of ataxia and in some cases the specialist never knows what caused the ataxia, this is known as sporadic or idiopathic ataxia.

Reaching a conclusive diagnosis of ataxia can sometimes take a long time because the symptoms could point to several other conditions.

What is the treatment for ataxia?

Ataxia is incurable but a great deal can be done to ease symptoms and improve the quality of life of the patient. Treatment for coordination and balance problems usually involves the use of helpful devices which help the patient attain as much independence as possible. These may include the use of a cane (walking stick), crutches, walker or a wheelchair. Symptoms such as tremor, stiffness, spasticity, sleep disorders, muscle weakness, depression (or frustration, sadness and anger) may be addressed with targeted physical therapy, speech therapy, medication and counseling.
•    Occupational therapy – Occupational therapy can help the patient manage better around the house and work. This may involve some home adaptations, wheelchair assessments, and making the kitchen more practical for the patient.
•    Speech therapy – the speech therapist can help with swallowing, coughing, choking and speech problems. If speech becomes very difficult, the speech therapist can help the patient learn how to use speech aids.
•    Orthopedic care – this can help patients with curvature of the spine (scoliosis).
•    Physical therapy (physiotherapy) – a physical therapist (physiotherapist) can help maintain strength and improve mobility.
•    Counseling – patients with ataxia commonly become frustrated and depressed; this usually results from having to cope with some symptoms, which affect physical mobility and coordination. Talking to a well-qualified counselor, such as a psychotherapist can help.
•    Supplements and nutrition – some patients with ataxia have very low levels of vitamin E and require supplements and/or a special diet. As sensitivity to gluten is more common among ataxia patients, a gluten-free diet also helps.
•    Medication – some patients with ataxia telangiectasia are prescribed gamma-globulin injections to boost their immune systems. There are also drugs for muscle spasms and uncontrollable eye movements.

What is Ataxia Summary

Ataxia is a symptom, not a specific disease or diagnosis.  Ataxia means clumsiness, or loss of coordination.  Ataxia may affect the fingers and hands, the arms or legs, the body, speech or eye movements.  A number of different medical or neurologic conditions may cause this kind of loss of coordination; for this reason, it is important that a person with ataxia seek medical attention to determine the underlying cause of the symptom so the appropriate treatment may be prescribed.

What causes ataxia?

Most often, ataxia is caused by loss of function in the part of the brain which serves as the “coordination center”, which is the cerebellum.  The cerebellum is located toward the back and lower part of the head.  The right side of the cerebellum controls coordination on the right side of the body, and the left side controls coordination on the left.  The central part of the cerebellum is involved in coordinating the very complex movements of gait, or walking.  Other parts of the cerebellum help to coordinate eye movements, speech and swallowing.

Ataxia may also be caused by dysfunction of the pathways leading into and out of the cerebellum.  Information comes into the cerebellum from the spinal cord and other parts of the brain, and signals from the cerebellum go out to the spinal cord and to the brain.  Although the cerebellum does not directly control strength (“motor function”) or feeling (“sensory function”), the motor and sensory pathways must work properly to provide the correct input into the cerebellum.  Thus, a person with impaired strength or sensation may notice clumsiness or poor coordination, In addition, the doctor may say that person has ataxia.

How does a physician diagnose ataxia?

Remember, ataxia is a symptom, not a diagnosis.  If you have clumsiness or loss of coordination in an arm or both legs or slurred speech, the physician may say that you have an ataxic arm or ataxic gait or ataxic speech.  Then the physician must determine why this has happened.  To do this, the physician will first ask many questions about your ataxia, how it came on, whether it is getting worse, whether there are any other symptoms, and so on.

A very important part of the evaluation is the neurologic examination.  The physician can usually determine whether the ataxia is caused by trouble in the cerebellum, its associated pathways, or other parts of the nervous system by his neurologic examination.  A careful neurologic and general physical examination can also determine whether other parts of the nervous system are impaired and whether a medical illness may be causing the ataxia.

Blood tests and X-rays may be very helpful in the diagnosing specific medical or neurologic conditions that can cause ataxia, or in “ruling out” suspected causes.

Here is a list of some medical and neurologic conditions that can cause ataxia to appear suddenly:
•    head trauma
•    stroke
•    brain hemorrhage
•    brain tumor
•    congenital abnormality (the back part of
•    the brain was formed in an unusual way)
•    “post-infectious” (after a severe viral
•    infection
•    exposure to certain drugs or toxins
•    (e.g. alcohol, seizure medicine)
•    following cardiac or respiratory arrest

Here is a list of some medical and neurologic conditions that can cause ataxia to appear gradually:
•    hypothyroidism
•    deficiencies of certain vitamins
•    (e.g. Vitamin E, Vitamin B12)
•    exposure to certain drugs or toxins (e.g.
•    heavy metals, seizure medicine, chronic
•    alcohol exposure, certain cancer drugs)
•    related to certain kinds of cancer (e.g.
•    ovarian, lung cancer)
•    congenital abnormality (the back part of
•    the brain was formed in an unusual way)
•    multiple sclerosis
•    syphilis (locomotor ataxia)
•    hereditary disorders
•    “idiopathic” (unknown cause) cerebellar degeneration
•    disorders

You can see that the list of conditions that the physician must think about as causes of ataxia is rather long; proper diagnosis may require a number of examinations, X-rays, and tests.

How is ataxia treated?

There is no medicine, which specifically treats the symptoms of Ataxia.  If ataxia is due to a stroke, a low vitamin level, or exposure to a toxic drug or chemical, then treatment would include treatment of the stroke, vitamin therapy, or avoiding the toxic drug or chemical.  There is no reason to think that taking vitamins or thyroid will help ataxia that is not caused by vitamin or thyroid deficiency.

The treatment of incoordination or ataxia, then, mostly involves the use of adaptive devices to allow the ataxic individual to maintain as much independence as possible.  Such devices may include a cane, crutches, walker, or wheelchair for those with impaired gait; devices to assist with writing, feeding, and self cares if hand and arm coordination is impaired; and communication devices for those with impaired speech.

Many patients with hereditary or idiopathic forms of ataxia have symptoms in addition to ataxia.  Medication or other therapies might be appropriate for some of these symptoms, which could include tremor, stiffness, depression, and sleep disorders, among others.

What is Ataxia?

The word ataxia literally means “a lack of muscle coordination.” The MediLexicon dictionary defines ataxia as: “An inability to coordinate muscle activity during voluntary movement; most often results from disorders of the cerebellum or the posterior columns of the spinal cord; may involve the limbs, head, or trunk.” Ataxia is a symptom of a disease or a condition.
Symptoms of ataxia.

• Balance and coordination problems.
• Slurred speech.
• Difficulty with walking, talking eating, swallowing and writing.

Ataxia and lack of muscle coordination.

People may find themselves stumbling and having trouble maintaining their balance. They may begin slurring their speech and have trouble swallowing. These are just a few indications of ataxia.

Causes of ataxia and the prognosis for each cause.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Damage, degeneration or loss of nerve cells in the part of your brain that controls muscle coordination (cerebellum), results in loss of coordination or ataxia.” Some things that cause the damage, degeneration or loss of nerves cells are:

• Head injury. The ataxia may be temporary or permanent depending on the nature and severity of the injury.
• Multiple sclerosis. This disease has remissions and exacerbations as does the accompanying ataxia.
• Stroke. Ataxia may be temporary or permanent depending on the extent of the damage.
• Alcohol abuse. Resulting ataxia is generally temporary; however, if the abuse is long-term, the ataxia may be permanent.
• Brain tumor. If the tumor can be excised, whether or not the ataxia is cured depends on whether or not the damage was permanent.
• Transient ischemic attack (TIA) may cause temporary ataxia.
• Toxic reaction caused by side effects of some medications. Usually resolves when medications are stopped.
• Complications of some viral infections. These ataxias generally resolve with recovery from the infection.
• Hereditary ataxia is caused by a defective gene. It is not curable.
• Heavy metal poisoning. May or may not be permanent.
• Vitamin B12 and Vitamin E deficiencies. These are resolved with vitamin B12 and Vitamin E treatment.
• Thyroid problems. Ataxia resolves with thyroid treatment.
• Mercury poisoning. Temporary ataxia that resolves with mercury detoxification.
How ataxia is diagnosed.

• Detailed medical and neurological history.
• Blood tests. These check for your overall health and can identify some ataxia causing diseases and determine if there has been poisoning by a heavy metal.
• Urine tests.
• Imaging tests to determine if there is any identifiable brain damage.
• Lumbar puncture.
• Genetic testing.

Treatment depends on the cause of ataxia. Unfortunately, except for the few self-resolving types already mentioned, there is no known cure. Devices that help with walking such as walkers or canes may be helpful. Some people benefit from speech, occupational and physical therapy. Some medications may help deal with the symptoms. Vitamin E and B12 supplements may be effective.

About the Author:


This guest post is contributed by Debra Johnson, blogger and editor of She welcomes your comments at her email Id: – jdebra84 @

a living with ataxia blog carnival – May 7, 2012

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Welcome to the May 7, 2012 edition of a living with ataxia blog carnival.

NOTE FROM Jon: This is a stretch from heath issues but the site seems safe so if you ‘re interested, go ahead and check it out…  greywater usereuse presents grey water recycling systems helps greywater use – reuse Australia posted at ultragts grey water recycling system Australia, saying, “UltraGTS Modern Treatment of GreyWater GreyWater Systems Grey Water Systems Grey Water System GreyWater System Grey Water Reuse Grey Water Tank Grey Water Filtration Grey Water Reuse Use Recycling Sysytems Grey Water.”

Tracy Miller presents 8 Most Common Food Allergies posted at Insurancequotes,org.

Henrikk Edberg presents Psychology and Positivity: 10 Ways to Improve Your Health posted at Psychology PhD.

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a living with ataxia blog carnival – October 16, 2012

Welcome to the October 16, 2012 edition of a living with ataxia blog carnival.

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Elissa White presents Blog – Good News for HIV Treatment posted at Elissa White, saying, “Here’s some talented news about HIV: Health and healing is civilizing for U.S. adults with the disease. HIV is no longer seen as a death sentence, like it was in the 1980s, but a constant, controllable condition when properly treated.”

Elissa White presents Blog – Talking about STD testing history: It’s not all dirty laundry! posted at Elissa White, saying, “Positive STD testing consequences happens. Really, it does, and it’s not always a big deal. So, when getting private with a new partner after an STD diagnosis, it’s important to have an truthful and uncomplicated conversation. Some may consider this talk “airing out your dirty laundry,” but it doesn’t have to be shameful or embarrassing.”

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a living with ataxia blog carnival – October 23, 2012

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Shelby Jackson presents 10 Signs Your Nanny Needs a Vacation posted at 4Nannies, saying, “Everyone needs a vacation from time to time, including your nanny.”

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Denied Insurance Because of Your Ataxia? How to Apply for Federal PCIP Coverage

Living with Ataxia is difficult enough. Life is just a little bit more difficult every day, and it takes faith and strong resolve to keep pushing forward and live your life as you wish. This becomes even harder when you simply can’t afford to pay for the medical costs associated with a condition like Ataxia.

While many Americans rant about having to pay a higher premium or their insurance company suddenly backing out of claims, the common citizen has no real experience with the types of medical treatments and costs that go along with a lifetime condition. Without proper insurance protection and outside support, simply paying your doctor bills can be completely crippling. To make matters worse, up until the recent healthcare reform, insurance companies could legally deny people with pre-existing conditions (which Ataxia is) or raise their rates to an un-payable amount.

If you have fallen victim to denial of coverage by your insurance companies, there are now ways to get help. The federal Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) is available for anyone with a pre-existing condition who needs coverage.

To qualify, you must have a pre-existing condition, and Ataxia falls within those outlined and be a U.S. citizen or live legally in the U.S. You must also have been without insurance coverage for the past six months.

Coverage and providers vary from state to state, but, because this is a federal program, every American will have access to some form of this plan, regardless of where they live. The only people not eligible for coverage are those who are already covered by some form of government healthcare or if you already have insurance coverage with a private provider. So, basically, if you are on an insurance plan right now that does not provide you coverage for your Ataxia, you need to get off of your plan for six months before applying for PCIP.

To apply, you will need to provide one of the following forms of documentation.

1. A letter from an insurance company stating that you have been denied coverage for Ataxia within the past 12 months.

2. An offer of medical coverage from an insurance provider that you did not sign up for because it did not provide Ataxia treatment coverage.

There are plenty of things that make living with Ataxia difficult. Simply finding a way to get health care should not be one of them.

If you have been having trouble finding an insurance provider that will work with you, take the time to look into this federal program and see if you have the chance to qualify.

Susan Wells is a freelancer and blogger who writes for She is interested in all things health, education, insurance, and technology. She’s always happy to hear from her readers and welcomes your comments and questions.

a living with ataxia blog carnival – October 9, 2012

Welcome to the October 9, 2012 edition of a living with ataxia blog carnival.

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Nalaka Priyantha presents How to Manage Your Stress? posted at Tips for Healthy Living.

Barbara West presents Eating Natrually posted at Eating Natrually.

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a living with ataxia blog carnival – August 28, 2012

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Jon Anderson presents How a Doctor Diagnoses Ataxia posted at I HAVE ATAXIA, saying, “there are some causes of ataxia that can be treated, there is no specific treatment for ataxia. There are different forms of therapy, however,”

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New Research May Pave the Way for Better Ataxia Therapy

A recent study published in the multidisciplinary scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U.S.A., explains how a team of researchers at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) has discovered more information about the nucleolar stress signaling pathway’s relation to the group of genetic diseases known as spinocerebellar ataxias (SCAs).

The research team, led by Professor Edwin H.Y. Chan of the School of Life Sciences at CUHK, says they have “unveiled the role played by the nucleolar stress signaling pathway” and that their findings may open up “new therapeutic directions for SCAs treatment…”.

Along with a research grant provided by the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong, the Biochemistry Program of The Chinese University of Hong Kong and The Hong Kong Spinocerebellar Ataxia Association supported Professor Chan and his research team in finding new information that will hopefully help scientists and clinicians develop new treatments for SCAs.

Using a multidisciplinary approach, the team has shown that toxic RNA molecules in cells disrupt ribosome function by preventing a protein called “nucleolin” from binding with chromatin inside the nucleolus (the part of the cell nucleus responsible for producing ribosomes). Known as “nucleolar stress”, this is the phenomenon that eventually causes cells in the cerebellum to die, leading to ataxia.

According to a press release published on CUHK’s website, awareness of spinocerebellar ataxias has increased in Japan and other surrounding countries over the last several years because of a popular Japanese television show titled 1 Litre of Tears. The show tells the story of a young girl living with ataxia and is based on a 1986 book written by Aya Kito (who was diagnosed with ataxia when she was 15 years old).

After being aired on television in Hong Kong, many people became interested in learning more about the disease, looking for ways to support those diagnosed with it and searching for new treatments. In 2007, The Hong Kong Spinocerebellar Ataxia Association was established and is still functioning today as a resource for both SCAs patients and their families.

Professor Chan, the lead researcher of this study, serves as a consultant for The Hong Kong Spinocerebellar Ataxia Association and is also a member of its Scientific and Medical Advisory Committee. The professor has been studying the pathogenic pathways of SCAs using animal experimental models since 1999. He earned his undergraduate degree in biochemistry from CUHK, his doctorate at The University of Cambridge (UK) and his postdoctoral training at The University of Pennsylvania (USA).

The press release for this story was first released on August 9, 2012. It can be found online by clicking on the link below.


Aniya Wells particularly loves reading and writing about online education, although her interests span different niches as well, including personal finance, parenting, sustainable living, health sciences and more. Because accredited online degree programs are hard to find, Aniya writes to help her readers figure out the maze of online education. She can be reached for questions or comments at

a living with ataxia blog carnival – July 3, 2012

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Sheila Turner presents 8 Mental Illnesses That Are More Common Than You Think posted at Online Psychology Degree Resource Guide.

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a living with ataxia blog carnival – August 21, 2012

Welcome to the August 21, 2012 edition of a living with ataxia blog carnival.

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Jacques Bouchard presents Basics of Buying a Home for the Road posted at Onward Healthcare Blog, saying, “Published travel nursing author Epstein LaRue writes about planning and purchasing an RV — with anecdotes from her own life experiences as someone who lives in an RV full-time.”


Jon Rhodes presents What Is Hypnotherapy? posted at Gastric Band Hypnotherapy, saying, “Learn all about hypnotherapy. What it is and how it can help you.”

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