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Acute Cerebellar Ataxia

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Acute Cerebellar Ataxia



Acute cerebellar ataxia is a sudden problem with coordination and balance. It happens when the cerebellum is damaged. This is the part of the brain that controls these functions.


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In some people, the cause is not known. It others, it may be due to genetics or:

  • Infections
  • Problems with the immune system
  • Head injury

Risk Factors

This problem is more common in young children. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Viral infections, such as chickenpox , Coxsackie virus, Epstein-Barr, or HIV
  • Bacterial infections, such as Lyme disease
  • Exposure to certain toxins, such as lead , mercury , thallium, alcohol , and some insecticides
  • A history of chemotherapy
  • Bleeding, abscess, blood clots, or blockage in the cerebellum
  • Paraneoplastic syndromes—happens when the immune system attacks the cerebellum in the area of a cancer
  • Certain vaccinations

Recurrent acute cerebellar ataxia may be marked by periods of inactivity and flares. Things that may raise the risk of this are:


Problems may be:

  • Coordination problems when using the arms, legs, or trunk
  • Problems walking
  • Clumsiness
  • Headache
  • Lightheadedness
  • Speech problems, such as slurred speech and changes in tone, pitch, and volume
  • Problems swallowing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Eyesight problems, including eyes that do not move in the usual way
  • Changes in mental state, such as personality or behavioral changes


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. A neurological exam may also be done.

Blood tests may be done. The fluid around the brain and spinal cord may also be tested. This can be done with a lumbar puncture.

Images may be taken. This can be done with:

Nerve function may be tested. This can be done with a nerve conduction study .

The electrical activity of the muscles may be tested. This can be done with an electromyography (EMG).


Ataxia in children may go away on its own in a few months. In others, underlying causes of ataxia will need to be treated. This may include medicine to ease swelling in the brain.

Therapy may be also needed. Options are:

  • Physical therapy to help with movement
  • Occupational therapy to help with everyday tasks and self-care
  • Speech therapy to improve swallowing and speaking


There are no current guidelines to prevent this health problem.





  • Cerebellar ataxia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/cerebellar-ataxia. Accessed January 22, 2021.
  • Cerebellar disorders. Patient website. Available at: https://patient.info/doctor/cerebellar-disorders. Accessed January 22, 2021.
  • Encephalopathy information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Encephalopathy-Information-Page. Accessed January 22, 2021.
  • van Gaalen J, van de Warrenburg BP. A practical approach to late-onset cerebellar ataxia: putting the disorder with lack of order into order. Pract Neurol. 2012 Feb;12(1):14-24.


  • Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.