Acute cerebellar ataxia is a disorder of the nervous system marked by the sudden onset of a disturbance in muscle coordination, especially in the trunk, arms, and legs.

The cerebellum is the part of the brain that controls balance and coordination. It does not function properly in the case of cerebellar ataxia. Although the abnormality of the limbs is most often noticed, it can also cause abnormal eye movements. Nausea and vomiting may also occur as part of the disorder.

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.

If you suspect you or your child has this condition, call the doctor right away.

Cerebellum (Darker Pink Section)

Bottom view brain
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Causes of acute cerebellar ataxia include:

  • Viral infections, including:
  • Exposure to certain toxins, such as ]]>lead]]> , ]]>mercury]]> , thallium, and ]]>alcohol]]>
  • Cerebellar hemorrhage, abscess, blood clot, or obstruction of an artery

Causes of recurrent or chronic acute ataxia include:

Plaque Build-up From Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis
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Risk Factors

These factors increase your chance of developing acute cerebellar ataxia. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors:

  • Childhood, especially three years of age or younger
  • Viral infections
  • Recent vaccination
  • Exposure to certain insecticides, drugs, or toxins


If you experience any of the following symptoms, do not assume it is due to acute cerebellar ataxia. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions, as well. If you experience any one of them, see your doctor:

  • Uncoordinated movements of the limbs or trunk
  • Clumsiness with daily activities
  • Difficulty walking (unsteadiness)
  • Speech disturbances with slurred speech and changes in tone, pitch, and volume
  • Visual complaints
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Accompanying symptoms may include:
    • Headache
    • Dizziness
    • Changes in mental state (such as personality or behavioral changes)
    • Chaotic eye movements
    • Clumsy speech pattern


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, medical and family history, and perform a physical exam. He will observe your limb coordination to assess the degree and nature of the ataxia.

Further tests may include the following:

  • Examination of cerebrospinal fluid]]>
  • ]]>MRI scan]]> —a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside the head
  • ]]>CT scan]]> —a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the head
  • Metabolic blood tests
  • Ultrasound—a test that uses sound waves to examine the head
  • Urine analysis
  • Tests to detect other possible diseases that are causing the symptoms:
    • ]]>Nerve conduction study]]> —a test that measures the speed and degree of electrical activity in a nerve to determine if it is functioning normally
    • ]]>Electromyography]]> (EMG)—a test measures and records the electrical activity that muscles generate at rest and in response to muscle contraction



There is no treatment for acute cerebellar ataxia. Ataxia usually goes away without any treatment within a few months. In cases where an underlying cause is identified, your doctor will treat the that cause.

In extremely rare cases, you may have continuing and disabling symptoms. Treatment includes:

Drug treatment to improve muscle coordination has a low success rate. However, the following drugs may be prescribed:

Occupational or physical therapy may also alleviate lack of coordination. Changes to diet and nutritional supplements may also help.


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