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What causes ataxia?
Ataxia maybe inherited and caused by a genetic defect or it may be acquired due to structural damage to the cerebellum or spinal cord.
Genetic ataxia may be sex linked, meaning that the DNA and gene problem is located on an X or Y chromosome (the sex chromosomes) or it may be autosomal linked, where the abnormality is located on one of the other 23 pairs of chromosomes.
Spinocerebellar and episodic ataxias are examples of autosomal dominant ataxias. Friedreich ataxia and ataxia telangiectasia are autosomal recessive.
Structural damage to the brain may be caused by any lesion that decreases blood supply to or invades into brain tissue, cerebellum included. This may include trauma and bleeding, stroke or tumor, and multiple sclerosis.
Poisonings, chemical, electrolyte, hormonal abnormalities, and malnutrition are also potential causes that tend to globally affect brain and body function and may or may not be reversible. Alcohol is perhaps the most common poisoning to cause ataxia. Other causes include a variety of prescription medications including lithium and those medications used to treat seizure disorders. Recreational drugs like PCP, ketamine, and marijuana may cause ataxia. Mercury poisoning may cause ataxia. Vitamin B12 deficiency and hypothyroidism are other potential causes.
Wilson's disease is autosomal recessive affecting the body's ability to metabolize copper and may lead to ataxia. It is an example of why classifying ataxia is sometimes difficult, since it is both a genetic and structural cause.
There are a group of patients with ataxia where the cause is not found and this ataxia is classified as idiopathic ataxia.
Celiac disease is an immune-mediated illness and is often thought only as a digestive disorder where the body cannot digest gluten. However, it may affect many other organs in the body. Gluten-associated ataxia may be one of the causes of sporadic idiopathic ataxia.