Ataxia is not a specific disease or diagnosis; rather, it’s a sign of an underlying serious medical issue. The primary symptom of patients who suffer ataxia is a lack of muscle coordination, and this can impact any type of mobility that requires your muscles to cooperate when attempting to accomplish a function.

If your ataxia has left you unable perform daily tasks and/or work, you may be eligible for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). Certain types of ataxia qualify and are listed in the SSA 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.

Frequently Asked Questions About Ataxia

ataxia_faqPatients diagnosed with this ataxia often have many questions about how the condition will affect their lives and how to move forward. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about this condition.

What’s the difference between hereditary ataxias and acquired ataxias?

Hereditary ataxias occur because of a gene mutation passed along through families. Acquired ataxias can have a variety of possible causes, including:

  • Conditions that disrupt the blood supply to the brain, such as a stroke or hemorrhage
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Bacterial brain infection, including encephalitis or meningitis
  • Viral infections that spread to the brain, including measles or chickenpox—although this is rare
  • Cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis
  • Long-term misuse of alcohol

Are there dietary changes I can make to improve my ataxia?

There are dietary guidelines developed to help reduce the severity of ataxia symptoms; increase the patient’s feeling of control and management of the condition; and reduce reliance on medications that can be difficult to tolerate.

However, it’s important to discuss any changes you make to your diet with your neurologist and nutritionist. These guidelines aren't a cure for ataxia and don't resolve individual symptoms, nor have they been proven to help all types of ataxia. But sound nutrition can promote a healthier lifestyle and a healthy body weight, which can help lower the stress on the joints and improve mobility. Good nutrition can also increase a patient’s energy and reduce fatigue, as well as increase his spirit and mood.

Here's a brief look at some diet tips that might be helpful for ataxia patients:

  • Patients who suffer from ataxia often crave sugar and carbohydrates to help them with depression and exhaustion. But they may find it beneficial to avoid foods with sugar and simple carbohydrates all together. Foods containing these ingredients, including cookies, cakes, fruit juices, and pastries, can actually cause fatigue and depression instead of relieve them. Eating foods with protein, fats, and complex carbohydrates and avoiding diet sodas and drinks with sugar and artificial sweeteners is recommended.
  • Foods with extra fiber can be beneficial for patients who suffer from ataxia.
  • Avoiding certain foods may help ataxia patients with dizziness and an improved sense of balance. While each patient is different and may not experience a positive result, here are some foods that, if avoided, might reduce patient dizziness and balance:
    • Foods containing aspartame
    • Chocolate
    • Foods with monosodium glutamate (MSG)
    • Raw onions, although the patient might tolerate cooked onions
    • Foods with sulfites, such as figs, dates, and dried foods, including raisins
    • Foods with nitrates and nitrites, including hot dogs, ham, and sausage/bacon

How is ataxia diagnosed?

When you’re diagnosed with ataxia, your doctor will look for the cause of your condition. He will likely perform both a physical and neurological exam, and check your vision, hearing, balance, reflexes, and concentration. He might also request the following tests:

  • Genetic testing. If your doctor recommends genetic testing, it may help determine whether you have the mutated gene that causes certain hereditary ataxias. These genetic tests are available for some but not all of these types of ataxias.
  • Imaging. Your doctor might order an MRI or a CT scan to help learn a potential cause. For patients with ataxia, an MRI can sometimes show that the cerebellum and other parts of the brain are shrinking. This type of test can also show pressure on the cerebellum due to a benign tumor or blood clot.
  • Spinal tap. A doctor may remove a sample of cerebrospinal fluid through a lumbar puncture—also known as a spinal tap. This fluid protects your spinal cord and brain, and will be sent to a lab to help with a diagnosis.

Additionally, a doctor may look at whether there are neurological problems in your family history, if you’ve been exposed to toxins, and perform blood tests. Finding the cause is important in patients with ataxia because it may show a reversible cause of cerebellar disorder such as a deficiency in vitamin E. 

We Can Help

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 SS Blue Book Listing for this condition or qualify on the basis of not being able to perform your past work or any other work in the national economy.

Contact the attorneys at Cuddigan Law who can help you understand the process and work with you on your application to increase your chances of getting an approved claim. 


Timothy J. Cuddigan (Founder - Retired)
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Omaha Social Security and Veterans Disability Lawyer With Over 40 Years Experience