Ataxia with Thyroid Problems

Tess Thompson



Ataxia is a non-specific manifestation of a dysfunction of parts of the nervous system responsible for coordinated movement. The terms ataxia does not refer to a specific disease, but to a set of symptoms caused by a cerebellum disorder. Ataxia may be cerebellar, sensory or vestibular.

Ataxia can be hereditary or non-hereditary. Hereditary ataxia depends on hereditary disorders of cerebellar or spinal degeneration, while non-hereditary ataxia may be caused due to a number of physiological conditions.

Documented causes of ataxia include:

  • Focal lesions of the central nervous system. The site of the lesions determines the type of ataxia. Lesions due to stroke, tumors or multiple sclerosis on the cerebellum, dorsal spinal cord and vestibular system can cause cerebellar, sensory and vestibular ataxia, respectively.
  • Ethanol abuse, prescription drugs like antiepileptic, and recreational drugs can potentially lead to cerebellar and vestibular ataxia.
  • Deficiency of vitamin B 12 may also cause sporadic cerebellar and sensory ataxia.

However rare it may be, cerebellar ataxia is listed as one of the symptoms of thyroid problem known as hypothyroidism, which is one of the more common thyroid problems. Any neurologist will first try to exclude thyroid dysfunction as a possible cause of ataxia of unknown etiology before proceeding with treatment. Thyroid disease-driven ataxia may occur in older individuals, with or without features associated with Parkinson’s and autoimmune thyroid disease.

The thyroid condition of hypothyroidism, commonly known as an under-active thyroid, is associated with a lack of adequate production of thyroid hormones. This causes numerous symptoms due to the adverse effect that inadequate thyroid hormones have on metabolism. However, lack of hormones on its own does not lead to cerebellar ataxia. The condition arises due to the autoimmune aspect of thyroid dysfunction. Autoimmunity is the production of antibodies against the tissues of your own body; a condition that creates hypersensitivity reactions. The immune system, due to unknown factors, starts attacking healthy thyroid tissue.

Cerebellar ataxia with thyroid antibodies can be chronic and may take months or years or be acute, or surface within a few days or weeks. Autoimmune thyroid is conventionally treated with corticosteroid medications. The flip side is that you can ensure against thyroid dysfunction if you are aware of the basic changes that you need to make to maintain thyroid health.

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