Cerebellar Ataxia Syndrome: Causes

By Lewis, Sarah, BS, PharmD

What causes cerebellar ataxia syndrome?

Cerebellar ataxia syndrome is caused by damage to or problems with the cerebellum. The cerebellum is the part of your brain that is responsible for coordination and balance. A wide variety of diseases, disorders and conditions can lead to problems with the cerebellum and cause ataxia.

Cerebellar ataxia syndrome can be categorized based on the cause of the problem.

Autoimmune and inflammatory causes of cerebellar ataxia syndrome

Autoimmune and inflammatory causes may include:

  • Behcet’s disease (disease that causes damage to blood vessels, especially the veins)

  • Celiac disease (severe sensitivity to gluten from wheat and other grains that causes intestinal damage)

  • Multiple sclerosis (disease that affects the brain and spinal cord causing weakness, coordination and balance difficulties, and other problems)

  • Paraneoplastic degeneration (rare immune system disorder that attacks the cerebellum)

Congenital and developmental causes of cerebellar ataxia syndrome

Congenital causes are disorders that are present at or before birth. They may include:

  • Agenesis (failure of the cerebellum to fully develop)

  • Chiari malformation (herniation of the cerebellum through the opening in the base of the skull)

  • Dandy-Walker cyst (congenital malformation of the cerebellum)

  • Joubert syndrome (absence or underdevelopment of the cerebellum)

Genetic or inherited causes of cerebellar ataxia syndrome

There are a wide variety of rare genetic disorders that can cause cerebellar ataxia syndrome including:

  • Ataxia telangiectasia (rare disorder that causes degeneration of the cerebellum)

  • Friedreich’s ataxia (rare disease that causes degeneration of the cerebellum, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves)

  • Kearns-Sayre syndrome (rare neuromuscular disorder caused by DNA abnormalities)

  • Mitochondrial encephalopathy with ragged red fibers (MERRF, a metabolic disorder)

  • Mitochondrial encephalopathy, lactic acidosis, stroke-like episodes (MELAS syndrome, a metabolic disorder)

  • Multiple systems atrophy (rare, progressive neurological disorder)

  • Neuropathy, ataxia, retinitis pigmentosa (NARP, a metabolic disorder)

  • Spastic ataxia of Charlevoix-Saguenay (gene mutation)

Infectious causes of cerebellar ataxia syndrome

Infectious causes of cerebellar ataxia syndrome may include:

  • Chickenpox

  • Coxsackie disease (viral infection also called hand-foot-and-mouth disease)

  • Creutzfeldt Jakob disease (rare disease believed to be an infection that causes mental deterioration)

  • Encephalitis or brain abscess (brain inflammation or infection)

  • Epstein-Barr virus

  • HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)

  • Lyme disease (inflammatory bacterial disease spread by ticks)

  • Mycoplasma pneumonia (type of bacterial pneumonia)

Metabolic causes of cerebellar ataxia syndrome

Metabolic causes of cerebellar ataxia syndrome may include:

  • Hypoparathyroidism (underactive parathyroid gland)

  • Thyroid diseases

  • Vitamin B12 deficiency

  • Vitamin E deficiency

Pharmacologic causes of cerebellar ataxia syndrome

Medications that may cause cerebellar ataxia syndrome include:

  • Amiodarone (Cordarone)

  • Carbamazepine (Tegretol)

  • Certain cancer chemotherapies

  • Cyclosporine (Gengraf, Neoral, Sandimmune)

  • Lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid)

  • Phenytoin (Dilantin)

Toxic causes of cerebellar ataxia syndrome

Toxins and poisons that may cause cerebellar ataxia syndrome include:

  • Alcohol

  • Carbon monoxide

  • Heavy metals, such as mercury, lead and thallium

  • Heroin

  • Organic solvents, such as toluene and benzene

  • Phencyclidine (PCP)

Other causes of cerebellar ataxia syndrome

Other causes of cerebellar ataxia syndrome may include:

  • Brain tumors

  • Stroke and other vascular conditions

  • Trauma

What are the risk factors for cerebellar ataxia syndrome?

A number of factors are thought to increase your chances of developing cerebellar ataxia syndrome. Common risk factors include:

  • Exposure to certain drugs or toxins

  • Having a family member with a genetic form of cerebellar ataxia

  • Recent vaccination

  • Viral infections

INTRODUCTION

What is cerebellar ataxia syndrome?

The term cerebellar ataxia syndrome is a description of a set of symptoms rather than a specific diagnosis or disease. Ataxia refers to an unsteadiness of gait or lack of muscle coordination. Cerebellar refers to the part of the brain called the cerebellum. The cerebellum is located inside the back and base of the skull, just above the top of the spinal cord. It processes input from... Read more about cerebellar ataxia syndromeintroduction

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of cerebellar ataxia syndrome?

Ataxia is a term that means incoordination, unsteadiness or wobbliness. Cerebellar ataxia is ataxia that is caused by problems with the cerebellum. The cerebellum is the area of your brain responsible for coordination and balance.... Read more about cerebellar ataxia syndromesymptoms

TREATMENTS

How is cerebellar ataxia syndrome treated?

Treatment of cerebellar ataxia syndrome varies depending on the cause, severity, and other factors. Cerebellar ataxia caused by viral infections will often go away on its own within a few months. Treating the underlying cause, if one is identified, can help improve problems with balance and coordination. Otherwise, treatment is supportive and is aimed at managing your symptoms and assisting with activities of daily life.... Read more about cerebellar ataxia syndrometreatments

Medical Reviewer: McDonough, Brian, MD Last Annual Review Date: Jul 25, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Brain and Nerves