Any person with ataxia will hear this question a lot. With only 10,000 people in the UK who are diagnosed, ataxia is a rare condition; here, we break down the causes of the conditions. You can find some examples of how to explain the condition to others at the bottom of the page.

The Science Stuff

What is ataxia?

‘Ataxia’ is an umbrella term for a group of neurological disorders that affect balance, coordination and speech. There are many different types of ataxia that affect people in different ways. You can read about the different types of ataxia in our 'types of ataxia' section, or access a general overview of the condition in our 'Ataxia: what's that?' leaflet

Who gets ataxia?

Anyone of any age can get ataxia, but certain types are more common in certain age groups. For example, people with Friedreich’s ataxia are usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence.

How many people have ataxia?

The ataxias are rare conditions. Estimates from recent studies say that there are at least 10,000 adults and around 500 children in the UK with a progressive ataxia.

Is there any cure?

Some forms of ataxia are treatable, but in most cases there is still no cure. We are supporting research and putting all our efforts in trying to get treatments or cures for the ataxias. See our Research strategy for more information.

What causes ataxia?

There are many different causes for ataxia. It's important to remember that ataxia is also a symptom of other conditions (such as MS). It can be acquired after head trauma or intoxication; many ataxias are inherited conditions caused by defects in certain genes. Read more about this in our 'Ataxia: what's that?' leaflet

The most common inherited progressive ataxia is Friedreich’s ataxia. Research is on-going to identify other genes which cause inherited cerebellar ataxias and discover how they exert their effects. However there are still many people who do not have a specific diagnosis for their inherited ataxia. These people would be diagnosed as having idiopathic cerebellar ataxia and there are many researchers focusing on finding new genes and new types of ataxias. Keep up to date with the latest developments in  our research section.

What can be done to help?

Join Ataxia UK free of charge and make use of our services and support. We will keep you up to date with the latest research news and tips on living with ataxia. You can join our local support groups, come to our events and much more.

You can read about different aspects of living with ataxia on our Health and Treatment page. You can also support us by making a donation, taking out a direct debit, leaving us a gift in your will, or raising money for us.

Explaining ataxia

One of the challenging aspects of living with ataxia is that many people don’t know what it is. Here are a few lines we’ve gathered from the community to help you explain it.

 “My limbs don’t do what I want them to do; it’s as if I’m drunk.”

 “I can look and sound drunk but I am not (more’s the pity). I have a rare neurological disease similar to MS (they know what this is).” – Litty

 “It's like trying to walk upright on a moving small boat” – Springlove