Ataxia: Important Facts You Should Know

“Ataxia” is an umbrella term for between 50 to 100 types of ataxia. Most patients who suffer from ataxia demonstrate a lack of muscle coordination that affects their ability to walk, talk, and move around. Often, ataxia patients seem to be intoxicated because they stumble and fall, talk with slurred speech, and appear to be uncoordinated. Whether a patient has hereditary ataxia, which is genetically transferred, or acquired ataxia due to a stroke, meningitis, Multiple Sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, or some other brain disease, he or she faces problems with movement and balance.

ataxia_formAtaxia can occur because of injuries, infections, or genetic factors—all causing degenerative changes in the brain. The types of ataxia that are due to an injury or a disease are known as sporadic ataxia and are much rarer. The common types of ataxia are hereditary.

If your ataxia has progressed past the initial stages and it’s now difficult or impossible to sustain gainful employment, you may be eligible for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Certain types of ataxia qualify and are listed in the Blue Book listing of impairments, section 11.17. However, it’s still helpful to hire an experienced Social Security (SS) disability attorney to assist you with your claim. Often symptoms do not meet the exact requirements of a listed impairment but still prevent an individual from working.

Important Facts About Ataxia

When you’re diagnosed with ataxia, or if ataxia runs in your family, you want and need the facts about this condition. Here's some important information about ataxia.

Presymptomatic Genetic Testing Is Available for Some Ataxias

If you have a close relative with an inherited ataxia but you're not showing signs of having this condition, it’s possible to get a genetic test to find out if you’re likely to develop it or be a carrier—both depend on how the ataxia is inherited. This type of test is typically available to adults over 18, but there may be circumstances that warrant this test for people not 18.

Choosing whether or not to have this test performed isn't always easy. It's a personal decision. Some people prefer not to know until or unless there's a cure available. Others want to gather as much information as possible to plan for their future. Getting the results of this type of genetic test can impact decisions about whether or not to have a family and whether you’ll be able to get insurance. Support is available from clinical geneticists who can help you with these issues.  

A Few Types of Ataxia Are Treatable

It’s important for doctors to do a thorough and complete examination and know your symptoms in order to make an accurate diagnosis about your ataxia.

For example, some patients have been misdiagnosed as having Friedreich’s ataxia instead of ataxia with vitamin E deficiency—a form of ataxia that will respond to vitamin E supplements as a form of treatment. This type of ataxia presents with symptoms that are similar to Friedreich’s ataxia. So, when diagnosing Friedreich’s ataxia symptoms, it’s critical that your doctor test for vitamin E measurements. Additionally, patients diagnosed with Friedreich’s ataxia in the past but didn't have a genetic test to validate it should consider having their vitamin E concentrations tested.

How Ataxia Is Inherited

Researchers find there’s a link between ataxia and damage that may have occurred to the cerebellum. Because the vast majority of ataxia cases are the inherited type, it’s believed that genes play a very large role in how the condition is spread.

Here's some general information about how genetics factors into the development of ataxia:

  • Findings show that for a person to develop this disease, he must get a “double dose” of the ataxia gene. Thus, if both parents are carriers of the gene, they may pass it to a child, because a double dose is needed to “enhance” the disease.
  • A child of parents with the ataxia gene has a 25 percent of being affected by ataxia by inheriting the two ataxia genes. That child has a 50 percent chance of becoming a carrier by inheriting only one ataxia gene. And that child has a 25 percent chance of inheriting no gene from the parents. It’s possible that one recessive ataxia gene can be passed through generations without notice.

Call Cuddigan Law

If you’ve been diagnosed with ataxia, you may qualify for SS disability benefits. Hiring an experienced SS attorney can help determine if you meet the Blue Book Listing for this condition or qualify for the Compassionate Allowance Program.

Contact the attorneys at Cuddigan Law at (402) 933-5405. They'll help you understand the process and work with you on the application or appeal to increase your chances of getting an approved claim. 

 

Timothy J. Cuddigan
Omaha Social Security and Veterans Disability Lawyer With Over 40 Years Experience
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