Sign In
Cook Children's
Patient Portal

Acute Cerebellar Ataxia

Consultations and referrals

phone icon
Call 682-885-2500

Acute cerebellar ataxia, or cerebelitis, 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.

What causes it?

Causes of acute cerebellar ataxia include:

  • Viral infections. like:
  • 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
  • Causes of recurrent or chronic acute ataxia include:
  • Stroke
  • Malformation of the cerebellum
  • Autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis
  • Migraine or vertigo
  • Genetic or metabolic disorders
  • Brain tumor
  • Alcoholism
  • Certain medications

Who gets it?

While it can occur at any age, acute cerebellar ataxia is most common in young children. It can occur several weeks after a viral infection, such as chickenpox. Most cases go away without treatment in a matter of months. However, recurrent or chronic progressive cerebellar ataxia does occur.

These factors increase the chances of developing acute cerebellar ataxia:

  • Age, especially children three years of age or younger
  • Viral infections
  • Recent vaccination
  • Exposure to certain insecticides, drugs, or toxins
  • Having cancer

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of acute cerebellar ataxia may include:

  • 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

Testing and diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your child's symptoms and medical and family history. A physical exam will be done, and your child may need to have their bodily fluids and tissues tested. This can be done with:

  • Lumbar puncture
  • Blood tests
  • Urine analysis

Your doctor may also need to have pictures taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

Sometimes, depending on the symptoms and your child's medical history, they may need to have their nerve and muscle activity tested. This is typically done with:

  • Nerve conduction study
  • Electromyography (EMG)

How is it treated?

The ataxia that occurs in children may often 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, your child may have continuing and challenging symptoms. Depending on causes and symptoms your child's treatment will often include:

  • Corticosteroids
  • IV immune globulin
  • Plasma exchange therapy
  • Medications to improve muscle coordination
  • Occupational or physical therapy may also be needed.
  • Changes to diet and nutritional supplements may also help.

Can it be prevented?

There is no way to prevent acute cerebellar ataxia except to vaccinate children against viral infections that increase their risk of getting this condition.

We're here to help.

If your child has been diagnosed, you probably have lots of questions. We can help. If you would like to schedule an appointment, refer a patient or speak to our staff, please call our offices at 682-885-2500.