This page is for adult patients. For pediatric patients, see: ataxia (peds).


  • Sign of a variety of disease processes; not a diagnosis in itself
  • Isolated lesion of cerebellum is NOT the most common cause
  • Must distinguish between motor (cerebellar) and sensory (cord, peripheral nerves) ataxia
    • Sensory ataxia may be compensated to a degree with visual sensory information

Clinical Features

  • Sensory versus motor ataxia
    • Romberg test
      • Comparison of posture stability when eyes are open versus eyes closed
      • If ataxia worsens with loss of visual input suggestive of sensory ataxia
      • If ataxia does not significantly change with eyes closed suggests motor ataxia
  • Systemic versus isolated nervous system disease
  • CNS versus PNS
  • Cerebellar versus posterior column (proprioceptive)
    • Finger to nose
      • Performing test with eyes closed tests proprioception
    • Heel-to-shin test
      • Posterior column disease: Difficult locating knee
      • Cerebellar disease: Action completed with series of jerky movements

Differential Diagnosis


  • Depends on rapidity of symptoms and additional features
  • If acute consider CT, MRI, LP


  • Treat underlying pathology


See Also