Skip to Main Content


Symptoms and signs of ataxia consist of gait impairment, unclear (“scanning”) speech, visual blurring due to nystagmus, hand incoordination, and tremor with movement. These result from the involvement of the cerebellum and its afferent and efferent pathways, including the spinocerebellar pathways, and the frontopontocerebellar pathway originating in the rostral frontal lobe. True cerebellar ataxia must be distinguished from ataxia associated with vestibular nerve or labyrinthine disease, as the latter results in a disorder of gait associated with a significant degree of dizziness, light-headedness, or the perception of movement (Chap. 21). True cerebellar ataxia is devoid of these vertiginous complaints and is clearly an unsteady gait due to imbalance. Sensory disturbances can also on occasion simulate the imbalance of cerebellar disease; with sensory ataxia, imbalance dramatically worsens when visual input is removed (Romberg sign). Rarely, weakness of proximal leg muscles mimics cerebellar disease. In the patient who presents with ataxia, the rate and pattern of the development of cerebellar symptoms help to narrow the diagnostic possibilities (Table 373-1). A gradual and progressive increase in symptoms with bilateral and symmetric involvement suggests a genetic, metabolic, immune, or toxic etiology. Conversely, focal, unilateral symptoms with headache and impaired level of consciousness accompanied by ipsilateral cranial nerve palsies and contralateral weakness imply a space-occupying cerebellar lesion.

Table Graphic Jump Location
Table 373-1 Etiology of Cerebellar Ataxia 

Symmetric Ataxia


Progressive and symmetric ataxia can be classified with respect to onset as acute (over hours or days), subacute (weeks or months), or chronic (months to years). Acute and reversible ataxias include those caused by intoxication with alcohol, phenytoin, lithium, barbiturates, and other drugs. Intoxication caused by toluene exposure, gasoline sniffing, glue sniffing, spray painting, or exposure to methyl mercury or bismuth are additional causes of acute ...

Want remote access to your institution's subscription?

Sign in to your MyAccess profile while you are actively authenticated on this site via your institution (you will be able to verify this by looking at the top right corner of the screen - if you see your institution's name, you are authenticated). Once logged in to your MyAccess profile, you will be able to access your institution's subscription for 90 days from any location. You must be logged in while authenticated at least once every 90 days to maintain this remote access.


About MyAccess

If your institution subscribes to this resource, and you don't have a MyAccess profile, please contact your library's reference desk for information on how to gain access to this resource from off-campus.

Subscription Options

AccessMedicine Full Site: One-Year Subscription

Connect to the full suite of AccessMedicine content and resources including more than 250 examination and procedural videos, patient safety modules, an extensive drug database, Q&A, Case Files, and more.

$995 USD
Buy Now

Pay Per View: Timed Access to all of AccessMedicine

24 Hour Subscription $34.95

Buy Now

48 Hour Subscription $54.95

Buy Now

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.