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What Is Incoordination?

Damage to the cerebellum may lead to incoordination.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2014
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Incoordination is a lack of muscle control which leads to jerky movements, movements which are difficult to complete, or unpredictable movements. People who experience incoordination may be said to be uncoordinated or clumsy. Another term used to describe this condition is ataxia. Incoordination is usually a symptom of an underlying medical issue and if it emerges suddenly, the patient may require immediate treatment.

Many people rarely think about their muscle coordination. In fact, the variety of smooth movements which people are capable of making are quite remarkable. Even a movement like reaching out to take a glass off a shelf requires work from numerous muscles. The body must be able to orient itself in space, to determine how far to reach, and to fire muscles in opposition to each other to keep the reach smooth and even. When there are breakdowns in this process, people experience incoordination.

Damage to the cerebellum of the brain can cause incoordination, as can damage to other areas of the nervous system such as the spinal cord and peripheral nerves. People can also experience temporary incoordination as a result of substances they have ingested or been exposed to. Alcohol, for example, disrupts the coordination of the nervous system and leads people to stumble and have difficulty performing tasks. Likewise, many neurotoxins cause incoordination as an early symptom of exposure.

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Sometimes, incoordination is the result of a progressive disease such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, or multiple sclerosis. It can also be caused by a congenital defect. In addition, it can be acquired as a result of disease or injury. For example, some viral infections can attack the nervous system and cause incoordination, and people often experience weakness and a loss of coordination as a result of brain damage caused by head trauma, strokes, or tumors. When symptoms develop, it is important to conduct a detailed evaluation to learn more as it may be possible to arrest or reverse the progress of damage if it is caught early and treated aggressively.

The sudden onset of incoordination can be a sign that someone is experiencing a neurological problem. People who start to experience gait changes, difficulty manipulating and grasping objects, and other signs of incoordination should make an appointment with a neurologist for evaluation. Incoordination can also lead to difficulty speaking and swallowing. A doctor can determine why a patient is experiencing symptoms and provide information about management and treatment.

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