Ataxia and Stroke – Symptoms And Treatment
Literally speaking, the word Ataxia means ‘without coordination’. Medically, it is defined as the lack of coordination and control between the muscles when a person makes a voluntary movement. Such a movement may be anything from walking, bending to pick objects or even raising hands and feet.
Ataxia and stroke go hand in hand. According to research this condition is a neurological sign of an underlying cause, which is a stroke. It is a dysfunction that is characterized by the lack of communication between the various parts of the nervous system that are responsible for movements of the body; the Cerebellum being one of the most notable ones.
For this reason, the condition is sometimes also referred to as Cerebellar Ataxia or Sensory Ataxia. In most cases, ataxia affects the fingers, hands, legs, arms and feet. In particular, this ailment robs an individual of the ability to perform rapidly changing actions and movements because the body is in a constant state of imbalance.
Causes of Sensory Ataxia
Cerebellum is a mass of folded tissue, located at the base of the brain. Divided into two parts, the right Cerebellum controls motion of the right side of the body, while the left controls motion of the left side of the body.
The main cause of Sensory Ataxia is a stroke. Such a stroke is a result of a blockade in one of the primary arteries that supply blood to the cerebellum or its surrounding tissues. When the brain suffers a stroke, its sensitive tissues are deprived of fresh oxygen and blood. Since the function of the tissues and muscles in the brain is so vital in the proper functioning of the body, even a few seconds’ delay in the circulation of blood can lead to irreparable damage.
Another instance of Ataxia and Stroke is the leakage of blood into the cerebral space of the brain. In this condition the brain tissues are deprived of blood oxygen when an artery ruptures and the blood from it mixes with the fluid surrounding the brain. The formation of a clot is most common in this type of stroke, resulting in severe damage to the cerebellum.
In both the ataxia and stroke cases highlighted above, the impaired sensory function of the cerebellum causes abnormal moving patterns. Since Ataxia and Stroke are both related to the cerebellum, the former can be treated by looking into the treatments and causes of the latter.
Other Causes of Sensory Ataxia Include:
Cerebral Palsy: A disorder associated with the damage caused to the cerebellum during birth or early child development. Cerebral Palsy is a common cause of sensory ataxia. According to world statistics, it effects between 1.5 to more than 4 per 1000 live births. Treatment of Cerebral Ataxia stemming from this disorder is very limited.
Head injury: Head injury is common cause of stroke that leads to ataxia. Car accidents or other impactful instances result in head injuries.
Chickenpox: Ataxia resulting from chickenpox is common, but can appear during the healing stages.
Vitamin E or B12 Deficiency: Not getting enough of these vitamins or having a disorder that leads to insufficient absorption can be a cause of ataxia.
Ataxia is diagnosed when the condition of the brain is studied. MRI and CT scans are used to detect bleeding in the skull or the presence of an aneurysm that will likely lead to blood clotting.
Symptoms and Pathophysiology of Cerebellar Ataxia
The pathophysiology of Cerebellar Ataxia is progressive in nature. A patient suffering from this condition is in extreme discomfort because he cannot perform everyday activities and becomes highly dependent on caregivers.
Ataxia and stroke symptoms include the following:
• Abnormal motor movements that lack coordination. A patient can hardly walk, bend down or write anything because muscle movements are irregular and wayward.
• Spurred speech that makes the patient stutter. Speech recognition and delivery is controlled by the brain. If this part of the cerebellum is damaged by the stroke, slurred speech is a result.
• Vocal changes mean that a patient’s voice becomes very different from what it used to be.
• Eye coordination is also affected by ataxia and stroke. Eye movements become repetitive or uncontrolled.
• Trembling fingers. Ataxia affects the fingers first. They become bent and lose flexibility.
• Swallowing becomes a big problem. Muscles in the throat are used when a person swallows. Without adequate muscle control and coordination, this simple act becomes impossible for ataxia and stroke patients.
• Headaches are constant and persistent.
Treatment of Cerebellar Ataxia
Treatment of Cerebellar Ataxia depend on the type of ataxia a patient has and the extent of damage caused to the brain. However, despite the treatment, in most cases medication for ataxia is used to relieve symptoms. It can hardly reverse the condition or improve it.
Ataxia which comes about as a result of temporary ailments like chickenpox or viral infections usually resolves on its own. In the context of Strokes, medications for ataxia are those that are given to improve the condition of the brain in the aftermath of a trauma. If the underlying brain injury can be cured using treatment for Cerebellar Ataxia- with normal function restored to the cerebellum- the condition can be improved.
• Speech and Language Therapy
This is an important treatment for Cerebellar ataxia. Speech and language therapy is used to help patients with talking and swallowing. A speech therapist guides patients on how to make their voice clearer so that words can be made out by others. Patients are told to focus on breathing, change postures while speaking and talk slowly.
• Occupational Therapy
As movement and mobility slowly declines, an ataxia patient has to get used to alternative ways to do everyday chores. Use of mobility devices is part of this treatment plan. Occupational Therapy is particularly important for ataxia and stroke to give patients some level of independence and responsibility.
In the treatment of Cerebellar Ataxia, physiotherapy is essential because it helps maintain the use of arms and legs. Regular muscle strengthening exercises help in movement and also reduce the risks of muscles getting stuck in one position.