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Acute Cerebellar Ataxia

En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition | Causes | Risk Factors | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention


Acute cerebellar ataxia is a disorder of the nervous system. It is the sudden onset of a disturbance in coordination. The cerebellum is the part of the brain that plays an important role in balance and coordination. It does not function properly in the case of cerebellar ataxia.

Cerebellum (Darker Pink Section)

Bottom view brain

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Acute cerebellar ataxia may be caused by genetics, viral infections, autoimmune disorders, or injury. In some cases, the cause is unknown.

Risk Factors

Acute cerebellar ataxia is more common in young children, but it can occur at any age. Other factors that may increase your risk of acute cerebellar ataxia include:

  • Viral infections, such as chickenpox , Coxsackie virus, Epstein-Barr, or HIV
  • Bacterial infections such as Lyme disease
  • Exposure to certain toxins, such as lead , mercury , thallium, alcohol , and organophosphates found in insecticides
  • Cerebellar hemorrhage, abscess, blood clot, or obstruction of an artery
  • Paraneoplastic syndromes—occurs when the immune system attacks the cerebellum in the area of a cancer
  • Certain vaccinations

Recurrent acute cerebellar ataxia may marked by periods of inactivity and flares. Factors that may increase your chance of recurrent acute cerebellar ataxia include:


Acute cerebellar ataxia may cause:

  • Uncoordinated movements of the limbs or trunk
  • Clumsiness with daily activities
  • Difficulty walking
  • Speech disturbances with slurred speech and changes in tone, pitch, and volume
  • Visual complaints
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Changes in mental state, such as personality or behavioral changes
  • Chaotic eye movements
  • Difficulty swallowing


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, and your medical and family history. A physical exam will be done.

Tests include

  • Lumbar puncture —to for abnormalities of the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds brain and spinal cord tissue
  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Nerve conduction study —to test the speed and strength of the nerve's electrical activity
  • Electromyography (EMG)—to test electrical activity of a muscle for weakness

Imaging tests can help diagnose and evaluate neuromuscular structures. These include:


The ataxia that occurs in children can often can go away in a few months without any treatment. In cases where an underlying cause is identified, your doctor will treat the cause.

In some cases, you may have continuing and disabling symptoms. Treatment includes:

Occupational or physical therapy may also be needed. Changes to diet and nutritional supplements may also help.


There are no current guidelines to prevent acute cerebellar ataxia. You can make sure that your child's vaccinations are up to date. This can prevent infections that increase their risk of getting this condition.





  • Cerebellar ataxia. BBC News website. Available at: Updated November 30, 2004. Accessed February 7, 2014.
  • Cerebellar ataxia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated January 21, 2014. Accessed February 7, 2014.
  • Cerebellar signs including cerebellar ataxia. Patient UK website. Available at: Updated October 15, 2009. Accessed February 7, 2014.
  • Encephalopathy. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: Updated November 9, 2010. Accessed February 7, 2014.
  • Frequently asked questions. University of Chicago Ataxia Center website. Available at: Accessed February 7, 2014.
  • Ishikawa N, Kobayashi M. Recurrent acute cerebellar ataxia associated with anti-cardiolipin antibodies. Brain Dev. 2010;32(7):588-591.
  • Mehta SH, Morgan JC, Sethi KD. Paraneoplastic movement disorders. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep. 2009;9(4):285-291.
  • Stumpf DA. Acute ataxia. Pediatr Rev. 1987;8;303-306.

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