What do you need to know about ataxias and gait disorders

The word ataxia means disorder and refers to a “disorder” or lack of coordination in movement, usually in gait, the patient walks as if he/she has been drinking. Most ataxias are due to diseases of the cerebellum.

Causes of ataxias

Ataxias are mostly degenerative diseases of the cerebellar neurons. There are dozens of diseases that cause ataxia. They are therefore very heterogeneous and most of them have a genetic origin.

Symptoms of ataxias

The most important symptom is gait ataxia, very often accompanied by difficulty in speech and alterations in eye movements, incoordination in the movement of the limbs. Sometimes they are accompanied by sleep disturbances, swallowing, urinary incontinence, and others. The progression is usually slow over years.


Diagnosis is difficult and requires not only clinical examinations, but also MRI, extensive and highly complex genetic or biochemical studies.


There are treatments for very specific cases. Patients require rehabilitation to maintain the best possible balance and to maintain ambulation while avoiding falls as much as possible.

Gait disorders

People suffering from this type of problem do not have any paralysis, they move their limbs well, but as soon as they start walking they have difficulty moving. Gait disorders usually affect the senior population.

Causes of gait disorders

They are varied, ranging from vascular lesions (multiple cerebral infarctions) or hydrocephalus, but are most often due to neurodegenerative diseases (Parkinson’s and parkinsonism). They are mostly caused by diseases of the brain or other parts of the central nervous system that in one way or another damage the part of the nervous system that is related to gait automatisms.

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Symptoms and diagnosis

Often the onset of walking is hesitant, the steps are short, and sometimes there are accelerations and falls, in others there are sudden blocks and the patient can not continue walking until after a while. Like most neurological problems affecting the central nervous system, they require careful examination and complementary tests such as CT or MRI.


Cases due to hydrocephalus have a surgical solution with good results. Those due to Parkinson’s and parkinsonism may respond to pharmacological treatment. Specialized rehabilitation helps to solve some situations.