Did you know that gluten sensitivity can cause ataxia?
Ataxia is a condition that causes poor muscle control and clumsy voluntary movements. Symptoms include difficulty with walking, balance, hand coordination, speech, swallowing and eye movements.
Ataxia is a condition that is generated from dysfunction or damage to the cerebellum. This area of the brain is located toward the back of the skull. It is very small compared to the rest of the brain, however it holds more than half of the neurons in the brain. It is a very densely packed area. The cerebellum is responsible for coordination of muscle movements, balance, eye movements and much more.
Studies have found that cerebellar ataxia and peripheral neuropathy are the most common neurological manifestations of gluten-related disorders. A gluten-related disorder is any condition that is triggered by eating gluten and includes both intestinal and extraintestinal manifestations.
Anything can cause the immune system to create antibodies or trigger an immune response. For gluten ataxia, gluten is triggering the immune system to create antibodies to a specific part of the body. However, we do not know the cause of autoimmunity at this time. There are speculations and theories, but not enough research to confirm the cause.
Gluten ataxia should, however, be tested and considered in the etiology and diagnosis of all patients with ataxia. While not common, we have seen gluten ataxia in patients at Carolina Functional Neurology Center. Many times these patients are younger and are experiencing tremors and muscle control issues. Removing gluten from their diets greatly helps with decreasing their symptoms.
If you are experiencing similar symptoms or suspect gluten ataxia, please contact us to schedule a consultation with one of our doctors.
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Hadjivassiliou M, Sanders DS, Woodroofe N, Williamson C, Grünewald RA. Gluten ataxia. Cerebellum. 2008;7(3):494-8. doi: 10.1007/s12311-008-0052-x. PMID: 18787912.
Hadjivassiliou M, Sanders DD, Aeschlimann DP. Gluten-related disorders: gluten ataxia. Dig Dis. 2015;33(2):264-268. doi: 10.1159/000369509. Epub 2015 Apr 22. PMID: 25925933.
Khwaja GA, Bohra V, Duggal A, Ghuge VV, Chaudhary N. Gluten Sensitivity - A Potentially Reversible Cause of Progressive Cerebellar Ataxia and Myoclonus - A Case Report. J Clin Diagn Res. 2015 Nov;9(11):OD07-8. doi: 10.7860/JCDR/2015/13299.6743. Epub 2015 Nov 1. PMID: 26673942; PMCID: PMC4668456.