DefinitionAcute cerebellar ataxia is sudden, uncoordinated muscle movement due to disease or injury to the cerebellum in the brain.
Alternative NamesCerebellar ataxia; Ataxia - acute cerebellar; Cerebellitis
Causes, incidence, and risk factorsAcute cerebellar ataxia in children, especially those younger than age 3, may occur several weeks after an illness caused by a virus.Viral infections that may cause this include chickenpox, Coxsackie disease, and echovirus.Other causes of acute cerebellar ataxia include:Alcohol, medications, and insecticidesBleeding into the cerebellumInfection or abscess of the cerebellumMultiple sclerosisStrokes of the cerebellum
SymptomsAtaxia 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 person is sitting, the body may move side-to-side, back-to-front, or both. Then the body quickly moves back to an upright position.When a person with ataxia of the arms reaches for an object, the hand may sway back and forth.Common symptoms of ataxia include:Clumsy speech pattern (dysarthria)Repetitive eye movements (nystagmus)Uncoordinated eye movementsWalking problems (unsteady gait)
Signs and testsThe doctor will ask you if you have recently been sick, and will try to rule out any other causes of the problem. A full brain and nervous system examination will be done to identify the areas of the nervous system that are most affected.The following tests may be done:CT scan of the headMRI scan of the headSpinal tap
TreatmentTreatment will depend on the cause.If the acute cerebellar ataxia is due to bleeding, surgery may be needed.For a stroke, medication to thin the blood can be given.Infections may need to be treated with antibiotics.Steroids may be needed for swelling (inflammation) of the cerebellum (such as from multiple sclerosis)Cerebellar ataxia caused by a recent viral infection may not need treatment.
Expectations (prognosis)People whose condition was caused by a recent viral infection should make a full recovery without treatment in a few months. Strokes, bleeding, or infections may cause permanent symptoms.
ComplicationsMovement or behavioral disorders may (rarely) persist.
Calling your health care providerCall your health care provider if any symptoms of ataxia appear.
ReferencesJohnston M. Movement disorders. In: Kliegman R, Behrman R, Jenson H, Stanton B, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 597.Lublin FD, Miller AE. Multiple sclerosis and other inflammatory demyelinating diseases of the central nervous system. In: Bradley WG, Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, eds. Neurology in Clinical Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Butterworth-Heinemann Elsevier; 2008:chap 58.