Ataxia is a condition that leads to lack of muscle coordination, which it turn affects eye movements, speech, swallowing, and walking among other voluntary movements. A person who suffers from this condition usually has damaged brain, in which the part that controls muscle coordination is not functioning well. Several factors cause this coordination complication. They include multiple sclerosis, stroke, head injury, faulty genes, tumor or cerebral palsy. It may also be a symptom of poor coordination associated with another infection.
A lack of muscle coordination occurs in various forms. Common types are Friedreich’s ataxia and spinocerebellar ataxia type 6. The rarest type is telangiectasia. According to research, people inherit over 40 coordination types from their parents. With continuous research, scientists are discovering other types. People with this condition mark it awareness day on September 25 of every year.
Common types of Ataxia
As mentioned above, many types of ataxia exist. In this section, we shall look at common examples.
Cerebellar ataxia. This type is caused by the dysfunction of the cerebellum, which takes part in coordination, assimilation of sensory perception, and motor control. This type leads to a wide range of basic neurological problems like Floppiness (hypotonia), absence of co-ordination between limbs, organs, joints, and muscles, (asynergy), impaired capacity to regulate distance, power, and speed of an arm, hand, leg or eye movement (dysmetria), challenge estimating time that has elapsed (dyschronometria) and difficulty in carrying out rapid, alternating movements (dysdiadochokinesia).
Notably, this type affects patients variedly. For example, the lesioned part of the cerebellum determines the nature of the condition a person will suffer. In addition, intensity and manifestation of the problem will depend on whether the lesions are one side of the cerebellum (unilateral) or on both sides (bilateral).
In case the condition affects the vestibulocerebellum, then the person with experience problems with balance and eye movement control. For such victims to gain better balance, they will have to stand with their feet apart and avoid posterior-anterior oscillations. Even with open eyes, the patient with this type of ataxia will find it difficult to gain balance when the feet are together.
This type stems from loss of proprioception. Proprioception refers to the sense of the relative position of other parts of the body. It shows whether the body is moving with the right effort and the location of other body parts in relation to each other. Because of proprioception, one is able to tell the position of their arm even when blindfolded.
When a person has this complication, he or she will experience unsteady stomping gait, as the heel touches the ground with a lot of force. The situation worsens in darkness because of postural instability. When a doctor tells such a patient to close eyes and stand with legs together, the situation worsens. With the absence of proprioception, the patient only depends on visual data. Affected persons may have trouble in performing smoothly coordinated voluntary movements of the trunk, pharynx, limbs, larynx, and eyes.
When a person has vestibular ataxia, their vestibular system is affected. In acute cases, the patient many experience vomiting, vertigo, and nausea. In cases that are slow-onset chronic bilateral, they person experience unsteadiness and giddiness.
The main cause of ataxia is lack of enough vitamin B12. It may also arise from other neurological abnormalities. Lack of vitamin B12 may also lead overlapping cerebellar and sensory ataxia. While these are the main causes, ataxia can lead to other health complication. One can also inherit this condition from parents.
Inherited muscle coordination problem
In this case, the patient inherits faulty genes from the both parents, the father or the mother. In other words, parents can transmit faulty genes to their children who end up developing poor muscle coordination. Moreover, the situation may worsen from generation to the other, and the onset age gets younger. This type is called anticipation.
The transfer of faulty genes from parents to children largely depends on the type of the condition. For Friedreich’s, both parents must have the faulty gene to transmit. This is called recessive inheritance. On the other hand, Spinocerebellar can pass from parents to children when only one of the parents has a faulty gene.
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