Ataxia comprises a group of disorders characterized by progressive loss of balance and impairment of gait (walking), along with impaired limb coordination and speech. Ataxia can develop as a result of inherited disorders as well as stroke, multiple sclerosis, tumors, alcoholism, peripheral neuropathy, metabolic disorders, and vitamin deficiencies.
Neurologists at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital's two movement disorder centers, Columbia's Center for Parkinson's Disease and Other Movement Disorders and Weill Cornell's Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Institute, are experts at accurately diagnosing ataxia and helping patients and their families manage the complications of the disorder.
People with ataxia may have an uncoordinated gait (walking), lack of balance, involuntary eye movements, speech problems, and difficulty maintaining normal postures and performing normal movements.
Many hereditary ataxias can be identified with genetic testing. Neurologists at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital offer testing to help confirm a diagnosis or to determine if someone has inherited an ataxia gene known to affect other family members. Our doctors also offer comprehensive genetic counseling for individuals with a family history of ataxia. Other tests that may be used to rule out other disorders causing neurologic symptoms include blood and urine tests, x-rays, and magnetic resonance imaging.
NewYork-Presbyterian neurologists first determine if ataxia is caused by an underlying problem that can be treated. If ataxia is caused by a metabolic disorder, doctors will treat that disorder with specific medications and a controlled diet. They will treat a vitamin deficiency with vitamin therapy. Other treatments for ataxia are directed toward relieving symptoms, and may include medications currently used to treat tremor, anxiety, and gait and swallowing disorders.
Physical, occupational, speech, swallowing, and nutritional therapy can all help patients with ataxia maintain function over time. Rehabilitation experts at NewYork-Presbyterian are available to:
- Evaluate muscle strength and motor skills and develop an individualized program to maintain existing physical function.
- Recommend supportive devices (including neck supports, canes, walkers, and wheelchairs); devices to assist with writing, eating, and self-care; and communication devices for those with impaired speech.
- Discuss ways to modify activities, conserve energy, and simplify work.
- Provide voice exercises to help with speech.
- Evaluate swallowing function and teach safe swallowing techniques.
Research and Clinical Trials
Investigators at both NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital campuses are conducting basic science and clinical research to learn more about the causes of ataxia and to find new and more effective ways to diagnose and treat it.