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Approach to the child with acute ataxia

Dewesh Agrawal, MD
Section Editors
Stephen J Teach, MD, MPH
Marc C Patterson, MD, FRACP
Deputy Editor
James F Wiley, II, MD, MPH


This topic will review causes, clinical features, and the evaluation of acute ataxia in children.

The evaluation of dizziness and syncope in children is discussed separately. (See "Evaluation of dizziness in children and adolescents" and "Emergency evaluation of syncope in children and adolescents".)


Ataxia can be defined as a disturbance in the smooth, accurate coordination of movements. It is most commonly manifested as an unsteady gait [1].

Ataxia is usually the result of cerebellar dysfunction. However, disturbances at many levels of the nervous system can also affect coordination [2]. As an example, ataxia that develops as the result of loss of sensory function (such as proprioception) would be described as a sensory ataxia.

Acute ataxia is an uncommon presenting complaint in children. Although causes of acute ataxia include life-threatening conditions such as mass lesions and central nervous system (CNS) infection, the majority of children have a benign, self-limited process. Historical features, specific physical findings, and selected ancillary studies can identify most causes of ataxia, particularly those that are serious and require stabilization and intervention.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: May 09, 2017.
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