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Acute cerebellar ataxia

Alternative names

Sudden onset of the movement disorder ataxia , often following an infectious viral disease.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Acute cerebellar ataxia is most common in children, especially those younger than 3 years old. It often occurs several weeks after a viral illness. Common predisposing infections include chickenpox and Coxsackie viral illnesses. In adults, the most common infectious causes are Epstein-Barr virus and Mycoplasma infections.

Ataxia may affect movement of the trunk (axial) or limbs. Axial ataxia is characterized by a broad-based unsteady gait (walking style). When the child is sitting, the trunk may deviate side-to-side and back-to-front or any of these combination and then return to the vertical position in a jerky type of motion. Jerky eye movements ( nystagmus ) and jerky explosive speech ( dysarthria ) may develop at the same time.

Limb ataxia manifests itself with poor fine motor control of the hands or legs and appears as though the person is able to coordinate his or her movements. For example, a hand may sway back and forth when reaching for an object.

The condition usually subsides without treatment over a period of weeks to months. Occasionally, a child will be left with a persistent movement disorder or behavioral problem.


  • Sudden onset jerky body (trunk) movement
  • Wide-based unsteady gait
  • Inability to walk without support
  • Jerky eye movements ( nystagmus )
  • Jerky speech pattern ( dysarthria )
  • Uncoordinated movements of the arms or legs
Other suggestive findings
  • Appears in child less than three years of age
  • May follow a viral infection

Signs and tests

The diagnosis of acute cerebellar ataxia is made by excluding other causes of ataxia , and by taking a history of a recent illness.

Tests may include:
  • Cerebrospinal fluid studies ( CSF total protein )
  • CT or MRI scan of the head


No treatment is generally attempted for acute cerebellar ataxia.

Expectations (prognosis)

Full recovery usually occurs without treatment within a few months.


Movement or behavioral disorders may (rarely) persist.

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if any symptoms of ataxia appear.

Update Date: 7/28/2002

Elaine T. Kiriakopoulos, M.D., MSc, Department of Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard University, Boston, MA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT