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Acute cerebellar ataxia (ACA), also known as cerebellitis, is a disorder that occurs when the cerebellum becomes inflamed or damaged. The cerebellum is the area of the brain responsible for controlling gait and muscle coordination. People with ACA often have a loss of coordination and may have difficulty performing daily tasks. The condition most commonly affects children, particularly those between ages 2 and 7.
Viruses and other diseases that affect the nervous system can injure the cerebellum. These include chickenpox, and infections caused by the Epstein-Barr and Coxsackie viruses. ACA can take weeks to appear following a viral infection.
Other causes of ACA include:
ACA can develop in anyone, but it typically affects children under age 8.
The symptoms of ACA include:
These symptoms are also associated with several other conditions that affect the nervous system. It’s important to see your doctor so they can make a proper diagnosis.
Your doctor will run several tests to determine whether you have ACA and to find the underlying cause of the disorder. These tests can include a routine physical exam and various neurological assessments. Your doctor may also test your:
If you weren’t infected with a virus recently, your doctor will also look for signs of other conditions and disorders that commonly lead to ACA.
There are a number of tests your doctor can use to evaluate your symptoms, including:
Treatment for ACA isn’t always necessary. When a virus causes ACA, a full recovery is usually expected without treatment. Viral ACA generally goes away in a few months without treatment.
However, treatment is usually required if a virus is not the cause of your ACA. The specific treatment will vary depending on the cause.
If you have ACA, you might need help with daily tasks. Special eating utensils and adaptive devices such as canes and speaking aids can help. Physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy may also help improve your symptoms. Some people also find that making certain lifestyle changes, such as changing their diet and taking nutritional supplements, can further relieve the symptoms.
The symptoms of ACA might become permanent when the disorder is caused by a stroke, an infection, or bleeding into the cerebellum. If you have ACA, you’re also at a higher risk for developing anxiety and depression, especially if they you need help with daily tasks or you’re unable to get around on your own. Joining a support group or meeting with a counselor can help you cope with your symptoms and any challenges you’re facing.
It’s difficult to prevent ACA, but you can reduce your children’s risk of getting it. Make sure they get vaccinated against the viruses that can lead to ACA, such as chickenpox.
Written by: Amanda Delgado and Elizabeth Boskey, PhD
Medically reviewed on: Dec 11, 2015: Steven Kim, MD
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