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Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

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Friedreich ataxia


Other Names for this Disease

  • FRDA
  • Friedreich's ataxia
  • Hereditary spinal ataxia
  • Hereditary spinal sclerosis
  • Spinocerebellar ataxia, Friedreich
See Disclaimer regarding information on this site. Some links on this page may take you to organizations outside of the National Institutes of Health.

Symptoms

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What are the signs and symptoms of Friedreich ataxia?

Symptoms usually begin between the ages of 5 and 15 but can, on rare occasions, appear as early as 18 months or as late as 50 years of age. The first symptom to appear is usually difficulty in walking, or gait ataxia. The ataxia gradually worsens and slowly spreads to the arms and then the trunk. Foot deformities such as clubfoot, flexion (involuntary bending) of the toes, hammer toes, or foot inversion (turning inward) may be early signs. Over time, muscles begin to weaken and waste away, especially in the feet, lower legs, and hands, and deformities develop. Other symptoms include loss of tendon reflexes, especially in the knees and ankles. There is often a gradual loss of sensation in the extremities, which may spread to other parts of the body. Dysarthria (slowness and slurring of speech) develops, and the person is easily fatigued. Rapid, rhythmic, involuntary movements of the eye (nystagmus) are common. Most people with Friedreich's ataxia develop scoliosis (a curving of the spine to one side), which, if severe, may impair breathing.

Other symptoms that may occur include chest pain, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations. These symptoms are the result of various forms of heart disease that often accompany Friedreich ataxia, such as cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the heart), myocardial fibrosis (formation of fiber-like material in the muscles of the heart), and cardiac failure. Heart rhythm abnormalities such as tachycardia (fast heart rate) and heart block (impaired conduction of cardiac impulses within the heart) are also common. About 20 percent of people with Friedreich ataxia develop carbohydrate intolerance and 10 percent develop diabetes mellitus. Some people lose hearing or eyesight.

The rate of progression varies from person to person. Generally, within 10 to 20 years after the appearance of the first symptoms, the person is confined to a wheelchair, and in later stages of the disease individuals become completely incapacitated. Life expectancy may be affected, and many people with Friedreich ataxia die in adulthood from the associated heart disease, the most common cause of death. However, some people with less severe symptoms of Friedreich ataxia live much longer, sometimes into their sixties or seventies[1].

Last updated: 3/3/2010

The Human Phenotype Ontology provides the following list of signs and symptoms for Friedreich ataxia. If the information is available, the table below includes how often the symptom is seen in people with this condition. You can use the MedlinePlus Medical Dictionary to look up the definitions for these medical terms.

Signs and Symptoms Approximate number of patients (when available)
Visual impairment 5%
Abnormal echocardiogram -
Abnormal EKG -
Abnormality of vision evoked potentials -
Areflexia of lower limbs -
Autosomal recessive inheritance -
Babinski sign -
Congestive heart failure -
Decreased amplitude of sensory action potentials -
Decreased pyruvate carboxylase activity -
Decreased sensory nerve conduction velocity -
Diabetes mellitus -
Dysarthria -
Gait ataxia -
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy -
Impaired proprioception -
Juvenile onset -
Limb ataxia -
Mitochondrial malic enzyme reduced -
Nystagmus -
Optic atrophy -
Pes cavus -
Scoliosis -
Sensory neuropathy -
Visual field defect -

Last updated: 12/1/2014

The Human Phenotype Ontology (HPO) has collected information on how often a sign or symptom occurs in a condition. Much of this information comes from Orphanet, a European rare disease database. The frequency of a sign or symptom is usually listed as a rough estimate of the percentage of patients who have that feature.

The frequency may also be listed as a fraction. The first number of the fraction is how many people had the symptom, and the second number is the total number of people who were examined in one study. For example, a frequency of 25/25 means that in a study of 25 people all patients were found to have that symptom. Because these frequencies are based on a specific study, the fractions may be different if another group of patients are examined.

Sometimes, no information on frequency is available. In these cases, the sign or symptom may be rare or common.


References
  1. Friedreich's Ataxia Fact Sheet. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) . August 2011; http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/friedreichs_ataxia/detail_friedreichs_ataxia.htm. Accessed 1/23/2012.


Other Names for this Disease
  • FRDA
  • Friedreich's ataxia
  • Hereditary spinal ataxia
  • Hereditary spinal sclerosis
  • Spinocerebellar ataxia, Friedreich
See Disclaimer regarding information on this site. Some links on this page may take you to organizations outside of the National Institutes of Health.