Acute cerebellar ataxia
    
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Acute cerebellar ataxia

Definition

Acute cerebellar ataxia is sudden onset of uncoordinated muscle movement.

Alternative Names

Cerebellar ataxia; Ataxia - acute cerebellar; Cerebellitis

Causes

Acute cerebellar ataxia is most common in children, especially those younger than 3 years old. It often occurs several weeks after a viral illness. Viral infections that may cause this include chickenpox, Coxsackie disease, Epstein-Barr, and mycoplasma pneumonia. Exposure to older insecticides called organophosphates may also cause ataxia.

Symptoms

Ataxia may affect movement of the middle part of the body from the neck to the hip area (the trunk) or the arms and legs (limbs). When the child is sitting, the body may move side-to-side, back-to-front, or both, and quickly move back to an upright position. When a person with ataxia of the arms reaches for an object, their hand may sway back and forth. Common symptoms of ataxia are listed below.

  • Sudden, uncoordinated movement
  • Walking problems (unsteady gait)
  • Sudden eye movements (nystagmus)
  • Clumsy speech pattern (dysarthria)

Exams and Tests

The doctor will ask you if you have been recently sick, and try to rule out any other causes for the problem. The following tests may be done.

  • Cerebrospinal fluid studies (CSF total protein )
  • CT or MRI scan of the head

Treatment

Ataxia may go away without treatment after a few weeks to months. However, physical therapy may be helpful in improving coordination.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Full recovery usually occurs without treatment within a few months.

Possible Complications

Movement or behavioral disorders may (rarely) persist.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if any symptoms of ataxia appear.

Eicher T. Toxic encephalopathies. Neurol Clin. May 2005; 23(2): 353-76.   

Cohen J, Powderly WG. Infectious Diseases. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Elsevier; 2004:309.

Long SS, Pickering LK, Prober CG. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Elsevier; 2003:147-148, 296-297.

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