What is ataxia?

Ataxia refers to a set of symptoms that most often result when parts of the nervous system that control movement, especially the brain's cerebellum, are damaged. Ataxia patients experience a loss of muscle control in their arms and legs, resulting in jerky movements and a lack of balance and coordination that can make walking difficult.

Types of Ataxia/Gait-Balance Disorders

  • Spinocerebellar ataxia (SCA) — a degeneration of the spinal cord and the cerebellum, which coordinates body movements. The wasting away (atrophy) of the cerebellum results in a loss of muscle coordination. Atrophy in the spine can cause spasticity. There are many types of SCA.
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) — an increase in the amount of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain, resulting in gait disturbance, dementia and impaired bladder control. Learn more about NPH.
  • Gait disorders/gait disturbance — the slowing of gait speed (the pattern of how a person walks) or a change in the smoothness or symmetry of body movement. Gait disorders have many causes, including central nervous system disorders of the brain (e.g., multiple strokes, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy) that cause muscular problems and resulting gait disturbance.