The cerebellum (popularly known as the little brain) is located behind and at its bottom of the brain where the spinal cord meets the brain. It is made of two halves known as the cerebellar hemispheres.
The main function of the cerebellum is maintaining balance, posture, and tone of the body.
Other functions of the cerebellum include:
- Fine-tuning and coordination of movements, such as while riding a bike or playing a musical instrument (e.g., guitar). The coordination happens between multiple groups of muscles.
- Coordination of the eye movements.
Scientists also think that the cerebellum also has some role in a person’s thinking and learning, especially language skills. It may also be involved in controlling emotions and regulating fear and pleasure response.
What are the signs and symptoms of a cerebellar disorder?
The most common symptom of cerebellar disorders is ataxia or loss of balance. Ataxia happens due to a lack of coordination between the muscle groups. As a result, the person can develop an unsteady gait and appear clumsy. This can be followed by problems in speaking, such as slurred speech.
Other signs and symptoms include:
- Decreased muscle tone
- An impaired judgment of distances or ranges of movement
- Problem with learning, thinking, concentration, and memory
- Intention tremors (involuntary shaking of muscles of the hands, legs, face, or head occurring during a purposeful movement)
- Vertigo or dizziness (feeling as if the head is spinning)
- Abnormal eye movements
What conditions affect the cerebellum?
The cerebellum can get damaged by various conditions, such as medications, health conditions, and substance abuse. These include:
- Brain hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain)
- Cerebral edema (swelling of the brain)
- Alcoholism (or alcohol use disorder)
- Drug abuse
- Head injuries due to road accidents, gunshot wounds, explosives, or others
- Huntington’s disease
- Some forms of migraine headache
- Medications (such as benzodiazepines, barbiturates)
- Lead poisoning
- Mercury poisoning
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Genetic problems
How is cerebellar damage diagnosed?
Loss of balance is usually the most common symptom that points toward a cerebellar disorder. The doctor will take the patient’s complete medical history and ask for any addictions, such as alcohol or drugs. Next, they perform neurological examinations that assess the patient’s walking style and eye movements. They can order tests, such as:
- Blood tests: To find if the cause is an infection, alcohol disorder, stroke, genetic problem, or tumor.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): To find the structural problems in the cerebellum, such as a tumor.
Treatment of cerebellar disorders depends on the cause. There is no cure for some cases, but treatments can help relieve the symptoms. The treatment plan requires a multidisciplinary approach incorporating, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and medications.
What can help prevent cerebellar damage?
Some causes of cerebellar damage cannot be prevented, such as genetic issues or degenerative conditions (e.g., multiple sclerosis). The risks can be reduced by:
- Practicing safety: Protection from head injuries by wearing a seatbelt while driving a car and a helmet while riding a bike.
- Eating a healthy diet and exercising: A healthy and nutritious diet is good for the brain. Exercise stimulates blood flow to the brain.
- Cutting back on alcohol and stopping smoking: Both can affect the functioning of the brain and increase the risk of stroke.
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Ataullah AHM, Naqvi IA. Cerebellar Dysfunction. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK562317/
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