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Post-Infectious Ataxia

more about Post-Infectious Ataxia


  • Sudden onset of incoordination, due to a complication of infectious disease
  • In childhood, this is most commonly caused by viral infection, usually varicella (chickenpox).
  • Volitional (intentional) movement is impaired, so there is awkwardness of usually well-coordinated movement.

  • 7-14 days after the onset of the child's varicella rash, incoordination of voluntary muscles occurs.  There may be other manifestations of inflammation of the brain or cerebellum.
  • Movements of the extremities, trunk, extraocular movements of the globes (eyeballs), or the speech musculature may be impaired.
  • The condition usually resolves without disease-specific treatment.

  • In childhood, usually varicella virus (varicella zoster).  This is a DNA virus in the herpesvirus group, also known as human herpesvirus type III.

  • History of exposure to varicella, antecedent rash prior to the ataxia, and the symptoms above.
  • Physical examination compatible with varicella
  • Volitional movement shows incoordination

  • A child with varicella, usually in the first few years of life

  • Usually, only symptomatic treatment is available.
  • Incoordination requires that patient be protected from injury.

  • Swelling of the cerebellum
  • A long-lasting incoordination of voluntary muscles
  • Complications are rare.

  • Consult with your pediatrician if any of the above serious complications persist.

  • Other causes of acute onset of ataxia:
  • Viruses other than varicella
  • Medication side effects
  • Medication overdose
  • Poisons or potential toxins, such as alcohol
  • Side effects of certain street drugs, such as phencyclidine ("horse tranquilizer")
  • Brain hemorrhage; other impairment of the blood supply to the cerebellum
  • Since well-coordinated movements depend on the meshing of sensory input (information from afferent nerve fibers) with motor output, interference with either the afferent or efferent pathways could produce similar symptoms.  Tests of the patient's ability to detect position-sense might separate-out an afferent nerve problem.




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