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What Is Involved in the Management of Ataxia in Children?

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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2016
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Managing ataxia in children generally involves treating symptoms of underlying diseases. Medication might regulate heart rate linked to ataxia complications, while physical therapy might strengthen muscles. Adaptive devices typically improve mobility and speech difficulties associated with coordination problems in children. Managing symptoms of disorders that cause ataxia in children generally involves seeking specialists in several areas, including cardiology, orthopedics, ophthalmology, and neurology.

Ataxia represents a lack of coordination from damage to a part of the brain that regulates muscle movement. Injury or disease that affects the spinal cord might also lead to coordination difficulties. Many cases of ataxia in children stem from degenerative disease, such as cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and Friedreich’s syndrome, a hereditary neurological disorder. A temporary form of ataxia in children might occur from complications of chickenpox or other viral infection, but ataxia from these conditions typically resolves without treatment.

Children diagnosed with Friedreich’s syndrome commonly suffer heart problems as the disease progresses. Some medications might help manage these symptoms by controlling irregular heart rhythms. Regular visits with a cardiologist might be necessary to treat heart irregularities as part of the overall treatment of ataxia in children.

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Adaptive devices, such as walkers and canes, might compensate for an unsteady gait that develops from brain damage. Physiotherapy to increase muscle strength might preserve as much mobility as possible if started in the early stages of ataxia. Some children develop curvature of the spine, a condition called scoliosis, which might be eased through orthopedic surgery.

Speech therapy might delay the onset of the slurred speech associated with ataxia as vocal muscles deteriorate. Exercises might keep muscles used to speak and swallow stronger to allow communication. As these diseases progress, special utensils might aid in self-feeding, along with eating small meals of easily swallowed food. Communication aids might include pointing to letters of the alphabet or photos as the ability to speak declines.

Most of the disorders that cause ataxia in children appear between the ages of five and 15, but some develop as early as 18 months. Early diagnosis and treatment might preserve quality of life as physical symptoms get worse. Parents might seek genetic testing to identify a genetic link, especially if they plan to have more children. Counseling might also help parents cope with the progressive physical decline linked to ataxia in children.

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