Ataxia describes a lack of muscle control during voluntary movements, such as walking or picking up objects. A sign of an underlying condition, ataxia can affect movement, speech, eye movement and swallowing.

Persistent ataxia usually results from damage to your cerebellum — the part of your brain that controls muscle coordination. Many conditions can cause ataxia, including alcohol abuse, stroke, tumor, cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis. An inherited defective gene also can cause ataxia.

Treatment for ataxia depends on the cause. Adaptive devices, such as walkers or canes, might help you maintain your independence. Physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy also might help.

Symptoms Causes

Ataxia can develop over time or come on suddenly. Ataxia, a sign of a number of neurological disorders, may cause:

  • Poor coordination
  • Unsteady walk and a tendency to stumble
  • Difficulty with fine motor tasks, such as eating, writing or buttoning a shirt
  • Change in speech
  • Involuntary back-and-forth eye movements (nystagmus)
  • Difficulty swallowing

When to see a doctor

If you aren't aware of having a condition that causes ataxia, such as multiple sclerosis, see your doctor if you:

  • Lose balance
  • Lose muscle coordination in a hand, arm or leg
  • Have difficulty walking
  • Slur your speech
  • Have difficulty swallowing

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