7 Early Warning Signs of Ataxia One Should Not Ignore
Ataxia is a debilitating disorder associated with the nervous system. The cerebellum, a component of the brain, undergoes damage in this health condition. As this component is needed for movement coordination, individuals with Ataxia show symptoms such as stumbling, falling, speaking in a slurry manner, and not having control over eye movement. Ataxia can be detected and diagnosed at an early stage based on specific early symptoms, which are discussed below.
Difficulty with balance and coordination
Since Ataxia affects the cerebellum, it causes people with this condition to perpetually experience a feeling of unsteadiness while standing or walking. One may constantly feel that they may fall due to a lack of balance. Apart from that, individuals with this condition may also have difficulty with changing directions or turning, and may frequently stumble or fall while attempting to do so. Moreover, some patients may also face balance-related problems while standing on one leg.
Ataxia also adversely affects motor coordination. So, people with this condition lose control of their arms and legs and some other vital muscles. This can cause involuntary movement in a person’s fingers, hands, arms, legs, and other muscles in the body.
Slurred speech and swallowing difficulties
Among the muscles affected by Ataxia are the ones that aid speaking. Therefore, people with this condition may speak in a slurry and incomprehensible manner. This early indicator of Ataxia negatively impacts one’s ability to communicate with people around them. Unfortunately, communication issues brought about by this health condition directly result in misunderstandings and difficulties in social gatherings and situations.
The tongue is a muscle that is vital for swallowing food as well. Therefore, if a person loses control over their tongue, they will find it difficult to ingest food. This holds true for solid as well as liquid foods. All in all, if one faces issues such as difficulties in speaking and swallowing food, they need to consult their healthcare provider immediately.
Difficulties with basic motor skills
Motor abilities in the body involve the coordination of all the muscles, organs, and joints in the body to aid simple movements and skills such as standing, sitting, running, walking, and jumping. These skills are basic, but they form the basis of a person’s overall movements, grace, speed, and efficiency in any scenario. The cerebellum plays an instrumental role in controlling and regulating various motor functions in the body. Ataxia directly affects this part of the brain, making even fine motor control tasks, such as typing, playing the piano, writing, or ironing a shirt a tall task for people living with the condition.
An inability to perform such basic tasks, along with other straightforward actions like brushing one’s teeth, washing utensils, and tying shoelaces, can get frustrating for people with this health condition. In the early stages of Ataxia, these symptoms will not be as extreme, but one would begin finding simple tasks challenging and eventually impossible to do.
Cerebellar Ataxia is known to trigger tremors in people. Normally, a person with initial-stage Ataxia may experience issues such as postural and intentional tremors in limbs, shakiness during speaking, titubation of the trunk and head, and stance tremors. This shaking in the hands and other body parts is caused by the negative impact of this health condition on the brain. Generally, tremors begin in a mild manner and then go on to become severe. Additionally, the tremors caused by Ataxia can be perpetual or emerge during certain situations and activities.
Having a shaky hand can hamper one’s daily functionality. For example, someone with Ataxia can find it difficult to do tasks such as operating a computer or entering numbers in an accounts book as their hands and legs are trembling uncontrollably.
Muscle weakness is another common early symptom of Ataxia in people. Fatigue can cause people with this health condition to frequently have a lack of energy to perform any tasks. Normally, people with neurological problems feel lethargic and tired even when they are not doing anything physically challenging. The main cause of this fatigue is the sheer physical effort one needs to put in to cope with their loss of coordination and muscle control, as well as disturbed sleep.
A lack of energy can adversely affect people who carry out heavy and physically laborious tasks in their occupation. Apart from such individuals, those who have this condition also find it difficult to stand on their feet for long periods. Fatigue tends to affect how people concentrate on tasks and memorize things in their personal and professional lives. However, fatigue is a common symptom of many other illnesses too. Therefore, someone with this symptom must screen themselves for Ataxia.
Eye movement abnormalities
Ataxia negatively affects all the muscles in the body in some or the other way. This includes eye muscles; when a person with this health condition loses control over their eye muscles, they tend to lose track of their eye movements. As a result, one may face issues like uncontrolled blinking or fluttering of eyelashes, involuntary shifting of eyeballs, and an inability to open or close the eyelids whenever one wants to.
Like the other symptoms, out-of-control eye movements seem mostly innocuous and harmless in the initial stages before becoming rampant as the disease develops into its advanced stages.
Worsening of handwriting
One can sense their handwriting worsening in the initial stages of Ataxia. This mainly happens because people lose control of their limbs and cannot do simple tasks like writing on a piece of paper without their hands trembling uncontrollably. This twitching causes a person’s writing to visibly go from legible to incomprehensible during the later stages of this disease.
If a person finds that they cannot grip their pen properly and write without any control over their handwriting style, they must visit a healthcare professional as it is an early warning sign of Ataxia.