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Overview of cerebellar ataxia in adults

Peter K Todd, MD, PhD
Vikram G Shakkottai, MD, PhD
Section Editor
Howard I Hurtig, MD
Deputy Editor
John F Dashe, MD, PhD


Cerebellar ataxia is a common finding in patients seen in neurologic practice and has a wide variety of causes [1]. Although cerebellar degeneration may be chronic and slowly progressive, acute cerebellar swelling due to infarction, edema, or hemorrhage can have rapid and catastrophic effects and is a true neurological emergency. Here we set out to briefly describe the clinical/anatomic correlates of cerebellar disease, to provide a broad differential diagnosis for patients who present with cerebellar ataxia, and to provide a methodological approach to the evaluation of patients with cerebellar signs. A special emphasis is placed on causes of cerebellar ataxia, both acquired and genetic, that are reversible when timely therapy is initiated.


The anatomy of the cerebellum in the posterior fossa of the intracranial cavity is complex, but it can be separated into three major structures:

The midline cerebellum, which includes the cerebellar vermis, the fastigial and interposed (globus and emboliform) nuclei, the vestibulocerebellum (composed of the flocculus and nodulus), and the paravermis/intermediate zone

The two large cerebellar hemispheres, including the dentate nuclei

Cerebellar syndromes can be divided into symptoms arising from damage to the midline structures or hemispheric structures, although there is significant clinical overlap between these syndromes [2].

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Jan 20, 2017.
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