What is acute cerebellar ataxia?
Acute cerebellar ataxia is a disorder of the cerebellum, the area of the brain that controls gait and muscle coordination.
Your cerebellum coordinates your movement. It helps you to be predictive and calculative before you move your body. For instance, you are about crossing the road. You look to your right and to your left. There is a car coming. You calculate in your mind. How far is the car from me? Can I cross the road now? Is the car too near? Would I have crossed the road before the car gets close enough to hit me? Do you get the gist? That’s your cerebellum at work. It engages your conscious mind to voluntarily move your body where you want it and move it away from where you don’t want it. It gets you to do your daily tasks.
When something bad happens to your cerebellum, you sure know what will become of you. You will no longer be able to coordinate your body movements. Your muscles will not be able to work like they ought to. Your voluntary ability to control your body movements will become limited. This is called in medical terms, cerebellar ataxia and it will be termed acute cerebellar ataxia if it occurs without notice to you! Another way of addressing this condition is cerebellitis. Kids between 2 and 7-year-olds are more likely to be afflicted with this condition. Adults are not exempted either.
Causes of acute cerebellar ataxia
Your cerebellum can be affected by anything that has the tendency to disrupt the functions and structure of the cerebellum. Viruses? Yes, they can. Nervous system injuries and diseases? Yes, they can. Measles, mumps, chickenpox, hepatitis A, coxsackie, and Epstein-Barr induced viruses can affect the cerebellum, too. Cerebellar bleeding, vitamin B12, B1, and E deficiencies, head trauma, exposure to toxins like lead and mercury, and Lyme disease can as well be responsible for the development of cerebellitis.
Cerebellitis may take weeks to develop following a viral infection.
Symptoms of acute cerebellar ataxia
The following accompanies acute cerebellar ataxia like an entourage!
- Coordination in the arms, legs, and torso become distorted.
- A tendency to stumble very often
- Shaky gaits
- Eye movements that become repetitive.
- Difficulty in eating
- Difficulty in doing simple fine motor tasks
- Speech becomes slurred
- Sleepiness in the daytime
- Changes in the tone of the voice
These symptoms aren’t exclusive to cerebellitis. The more reason you have to see your doctor as soon as you start experiencing them.
Diagnosis for acute cerebellar ataxia
Different tests will be performed on you to diagnose the cause of the case appropriately. These tests include;
A physical examination: This includes your coordination, memory, vision, hearing ability, gait (balance and walking), reflexes, and concentration abilities.
If you have not recently had a viral infection, other symptoms that could induce acute cerebellar ataxia development will be looked out for by your doctor.
A study termed nerve conduction study, where your nerves are assessed for their functions, will be carried out on you.
The functionality of your muscles – their electrical activities, in particular, will also be examined using a study called Electromyography.
There is a test called a spinal tap. In a spinal tap, your doctor wants to see whether your cerebrospinal fluid is ‘doing fine’. This fluid is where your brain and spinal cord are submerged into. It is very instrumental in helping these two structures to function effectively.
Your doctor will also check whether your blood cells are in their right shape and activities. This is called a Complete blood count.
Still, in an attempt to properly assess your condition, your doctor might decide to have a clear view of your brain to look out for possible structural defects. He is going to use any of these – an ultrasound, a CT, or an MRI scan.
Urinalysis is another great test that can be performed on you. Your urine will be tested for any abnormalities.
Treatment for acute cerebellar ataxia
This can be in two perspectives; when it is virus-induced and when it not virus-induced.
When it is virus-induced, no treatment will be required. It will take a couple of weeks to handle itself naturally.
But if its cause is non-virus, then its treatment will be based on what the actual cause is. And it’s saddening to know that it could last for a lifetime although some can only last for a few years or weeks. But it all boils down to what the cause is.
The following instances will shed more light on this.
- Cerebellar bleeding may only require a surgery
- Bacterial infection only requires antibiotics and you will be fine.
- A stroke might call for the administration of blood thinners.
- Inflammation will need just the administration of steroids.
- The toxin will need that you remove the source of the toxin or limit your exposure to it.
- Vitamin deficiency will require that you take the deficient vitamin in a supplement form i.e. vitamin B1, B12, or E.
- Gluten sensitivity will be handled by taking meals that are gluten-free.
- Help in your daily tasks will be required if you already have acute cerebellar ataxia. You can get specially designed utensils, speaking devices, and canes. They will make life easier for you.
- You can also go for speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy as they will really help you to feel and live better.
- Changes can be effected in your lifestyle. These should include what you eat and the medications you take.
How adults are affected
Kids and adults have close symptoms and as such both will undergo the various treatment options that have already been discussed. Too much consumption of alcohol is one factor that can easily place adults at a very high risk of having acute cerebellar ataxia. This is followed by chemotherapy and anti-epileptic drugs.
Adult acute cerebellar ataxia needs to be differentiated from other types of ataxias that manifest in a very slow pattern. This is one of the things your doctor will do in diagnosis.
Conditions similar to acute cerebellar ataxia
Subacute ataxia, chronic progressive ataxia, and congenital ataxia have similar presentations with acute cerebellar ataxia but their causes are not the same.
It usually manifests within days and sometimes weeks, although its development isn’t sudden. The symptoms are only a consequence of what has gradually been developing without your notice. Whipple’s disease, Prion Diseases, and progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy can readily cause subacute ataxia.
Chronic progressive ataxia
In this case, it gradually unfolds over a period of months and even years. This most times is caused by certain genetic alterations. According to recent research, most cases of ataxia in children and about 50 – 70 % in adults are due to genetic abnormalities. Mitochondrial defects, as well as neurodegenerative diseases, have also been implicated in chronic progressive ataxias development.
A migraine headache associated with a brainstem aura can mimic chronic progressive ataxia. Your doctor will have to be sure of his diagnosis before treatment will be commenced on you.
There are instances where children are born with ataxia due to a defect during brain formation. It is termed congenital ataxia. It might need a surgical correction but not in all cases. When this happens, the child will have to live with it for the rest of his life.
Complications for acute cerebellar ataxia
When acute cerebellar ataxia is caused by an infection, cerebellar bleeding, or a stroke, the symptoms may not be temporary. People who have acute cerebellar ataxia have been found to be at a very high risk of suffering from depression and anxiety. These might stem from the fact that such people need help to undertake ordinary daily tasks because of their incapacitation to do that any longer. Being a part of a system that is supportive of having a counselor can be a soothing one. They can help you manage your day-to-day challenges.
Prevention of acute cerebellar ataxia
The risk can only be minimized. It cannot altogether be prevented. It is quite difficult to. But you can help your kids reduce their chances of having it by ensuring they get the appropriate vaccination against viruses that can predispose them to have acute cerebellar ataxia i.e. chickenpox vaccine. You can lower your risk as an adult by minimizing your intake of alcohol in excess.
If you don’t already have a stroke, you can work against having one by being conscious of your weight, what you eat, your blood pressure, exercising right, and of course your blood cholesterol level. Doing these will place you above average in developing cerebellitis.