If a loved one has just been diagnosed with ataxia, or it's been suggested as a possibility to explain other symptoms, you will no doubt be wondering what it is and what can be done about it. It's quite likely you will have never heard of ataxia - or Spinocerebellar Ataxia to give it it's full name - and have no idea about it. That is where the National Ataxia Foundation and their informative website (http://www.ataxia.org) can help further your knowledge.
Basically, ataxia is a general term used to explain a lack of coordination, sometimes demonstrated as losing balance or being unable to synchronise limb movements, and also potentially leading to inability to write and slowing of the eye movements. Problems with the nervous system, which control the body's movement, are symptomatic of ataxia, however why these problems with the nervous system arise can be down to a number of issues, and are not always just because you are genetically-programmed to be more susceptible or because of old age.
Diagnosis of ataxia often involves a long and detailed investigation into someone's personal medical and family history, along with blood tests and an MRI scan of the brain. Ataxia is also often used as a cover-all topic to describe other degenerative diseases of the nervous system, and this particular area is where the National Ataxia Foundation focus much of their attention. You can read more about how they do this through supporting promising ataxia research on their website http://www.ataxia.org
The ultimate question following any possible diagnosis, is what is the prognosis? This will depend upon a number of factors, including age of onset and any other medical history that may be relevant. Ataxia can also be a symptom itself of other things, such as strokes, alcoholism or head injuries, and in those cases, the National Ataxia Foundation suggest working with support organisations who specialise in those areas.
Some types of ataxia begin to develop early, whilst others do not appear until people are in their 60s. Unfortunately, much more research is needed to understand the effects of ataxia on lifespan, and the National Ataxia Foundation was established to support such research. More details on the types of research and how they are supported can be found on their website http://www.ataxia.org in the 'Research' area. This vital work, particularly into those types of ataxia that relatively little is known about, could hopefully provide the sort of breakthrough in treatment that we have seen in other diseases and illnesses in recent years. This would be of particular benefit for those forms of ataxia that have additional symptoms, which can often compound the problem.
This is just a brief overview of ataxia however much more information on all aspects of the disease can be found on the National Ataxia Foundation website, http://www.ataxia.org