Ohio State’s Movement Disorders Clinic has an experienced team who specialize in treating all types of movement disorders.

Ataxia is an umbrella term for an inability to control and coordinate movements of your arms, trunk and legs. Ataxias also can affect speech and swallowing. Ataxia is a symptom that often accompanies another condition, such as multiple sclerosis or dystonia (a movement disorder that causes involuntary contractions of your muscles).

Other causes of ataxia include stroke, trauma, genetic mutations and toxin exposure.

Why choose Ohio State for treatment of ataxia?

Multidisciplinary Team of Experts: At The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Movement Disorders Clinic, we have a team of experts dedicated to treating movement disorders such as ataxia. They include:

  • Movement disorders neurologists with fellowship training or extensive clinical experience in movement disorders
  • Social worker
  • Physical, occupational and speech therapists
  • Nurse practitioners and a clinic nurse
  • Neuropsychiatrist who can address related behavioral and mental health issues
  • Genetic counselor

Experience with a Rare Disease: We have central Ohio’s largest and most experienced movement disorders team. Our movement disorders specialists have treated hundreds of patients with movement disorders, providing us the opportunity to diagnose and treat a wide variety of people with ataxias.

Physical Therapy Expertise: Our physical therapists specialize in movement disorders and are known internationally for their research and work in setting the standard of physical therapy care for movement disorders, particularly in gait (manner of walking) and balance assessment and treatment.

Types of Ataxia

Types of Ataxia

Types of Ataxia

In addition to general ataxias, there are other rare forms:

Ataxia-telangiectasia (AT)

Ataxia-telangiectasia (AT) is an inherited disease. It affects the nervous system, immune system and other body systems. Symptoms appear in young children, usually before age 5. They include:

  • Poor balance
  • Slurred speech
  • Tiny, red spider veins, called telangiectasias, on the skin and eyes
  • Lung infections
  • Delayed physical and sexual development

People with AT have an increased risk of developing diabetes and cancers, particularly lymphoma and leukemia. Although it affects the brain, people with AT usually have normal or above normal intelligence.

AT has no cure. Treatments might improve some symptoms. They include injections to strengthen the immune system, physical and speech therapy and high-dose vitamin therapy.

Source: NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Friedreich's ataxia

Friedreich's ataxia is an inherited disease that damages your nervous system. The damage affects your spinal cord and the nerves that control muscle movement in your arms and legs. Symptoms usually begin between the ages of 5 and 15. The main symptom is trouble coordinating movements (ataxia). Specific symptoms include:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Muscle weakness
  • Speech problems
  • Involuntary eye movements
  • Scoliosis (curving of the spine to one side)
  • Heart palpitations, from the heart disease which can happen along with Friedreich's ataxia

People with Friedreich’s ataxia usually need a wheelchair 15 to 20 years after symptoms first appear. In severe cases, people become incapacitated. There is no cure. Treatment for symptoms includes medication, braces, surgery and physical therapy.

Source: NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Spinocerebellar ataxia (SCA)

Spinocerebellar ataxia (SCA) describes an extremely rare group of movement disorders in which the cerebellum (part of the brain that controls coordination) begins to wither, causing problems with movement control. Each of 30 types of ataxia is given a different number and is associated with a specific gene mutation. SCA 1 and 3 are the most common types; SCA 17 looks similar to Huntington’s disease. Several of the SCAs are hereditary; some carry a 50 percent risk of getting the disorder if your parent has it.

Source: NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Diagnosis

Diagnosing Ataxia

During a history and physical exam, our movement disorders neurologists talk with you about your personal and family history and evaluate your coordination and movements. We may recommend further diagnostic options to help us better define an underlying cause of your movement abnormality or to rule out disorders that can cause ataxia. These tests might include:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain
  • Blood tests for vitamin E deficiency, a contributing factor to some forms of ataxia
  • Genetic tests to better define the type of ataxia

Our genetic counselor, who specializes in movement disorders, assists your physician in your evaluation. With her understanding of more than 40 ataxias that can be inherited, she can explain testing options and thoroughly explain results and their implications for you and other family members. 

Treatment

Treating Ataxia

There is no cure for ataxia. Current treatment strategies aim to decrease the ataxia, so that you can have a better quality of life.

Medication

Our movement disorders specialists can prescribe medications to lessen the effects of your symptoms. If you have abnormal thinking patterns or behavioral abnormalities, we can offer coping strategies or medications for problems such as depression. Botulinum toxin (e.g., Botox) injections can be used to stop muscle spasms for some ataxias, such as those associated with dystonia (a movement disorder that causes involuntary contractions of your muscles).

Physical Therapy

One of Ohio State’s strengths is our physical therapy program, which includes therapists who specialize in movement disorders. Our focus is on helping people maintain their highest level of function and movement.

We also can help you manage motor, cognitive and psychiatric impairments that affect your ability to move.

We assess you through a variety of tests and recommend the best therapies for your needs. These may include:

  • Training you to walk with regular steps to improve your balance and prevent falls
  • Working with you to safely transfer on and off of chairs and toilets to help you to be more independent
  • Assessing you to recommend appropriate walking or assistive devices
  • Teaching you exercises to improve strength, flexibility, coordination and balance, and maintain fitness and health

Our occupational therapists specialize in movement disorders and assist you in performing work and leisure activities, as well as activities of daily living. Our speech therapists can help you with difficulties swallowing and with slurred speech.

Deep Brain Stimulation

For severe symptoms, we may recommend deep brain stimulation (DBS), performed at our Center for Neuromodulation. DBS involves surgically implanting tiny electrodes into the brain and connecting them to a small pacemaker-like device (programmable battery) that has been implanted into the chest wall. The electrodes deliver tiny electrical signals that calm abnormal brain signals. The goal of these electrical signals is to alleviate disabling symptoms, such as tremors, rigidity and slow or uncontrollable movements.

Research

Research

Our participation in national and international clinical trials for movement disorders provides you with access to the latest options in medications and treatments, often long before they come to market.

Enroll in a clinical trial

Our Doctors

Additional Information

Please bring a written family medical history with you. Also write down medications and dosages you have taken for your symptoms. Keep a medical log of when your symptoms began and how they are progressing. Note important developments such as when you started tripping, when you stopped driving or when you stopped working. We encourage you to bring a family member or support person with you to each visit.

Preparing for your visit

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