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Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

Cerebellar degeneration

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Your Question

My mom has had cerebellar degeneration for several years, yet I still know very little about it. Can you provide me with some information?

Our Answer

We have identified the following information that we hope you find helpful. If you still have questions, please contact us.

What is cerebellar degeneration?

Cerebellar degeneration refers to the deterioration of neurons in the cerebellum (the area of the brain that controls muscle coordination and balance). Conditions that cause cerebellar degeneration may also affect other areas of the central nervous system, such as the spinal cord, the cerebral cortex, and the brain stem. Signs and symptoms of cerebellar degeneration may include a wide-based, uncoordinated walk; a back and forth tremor in the trunk of the body; uncoordinated movements of the arms and legs; slow and slurred speech; and nystagmus. Cerebellar degeneration can be caused by a variety of factors including inherited gene changes (mutations), chronic alcohol abuse, and paraneoplastic disorders. Treatment for cerebellar degeneration varies depending on the underlying cause.[1]
Last updated: 12/14/2014

What causes cerebellar degeneration?

Cerebellar degeneration can be caused by a variety of different conditions. Neurological diseases that can lead to cerebellar degeneration include:[1]
Other conditions that can lead to temporary or permanent cerebellar damage include chronic alcohol abuse and paraneoplastic disorders.[1]
Last updated: 12/14/2014

What are the signs and symptoms of cerebellar degeneration?

Cerebellar degeneration is primarily characterized by a wide-legged, unsteady, lurching walk that is usually accompanied by a back and forth tremor in the trunk of the body. Other signs and symptoms may include slow, unsteady and jerky movement of the arms or legs; slowed and slurred speech; and nystagmus.[1] Although cerebellar disorders usually strike adults in middle age, the age of symptomatic onset varies depending on the underlying cause of the degeneration.[2]

Studies have shown that many patients with movement disorders caused by damage to the cerebellum also have psychiatric symptoms. These studies suggest that patients with cerebellar diseases may benefit from screening and treatment of psychiatric disorders.[2]
Last updated: 12/14/2014

How might cerebellar degeneration be treated?

There is currently no cure for hereditary forms of cerebellar degeneration. In these cases, treatment is usually supportive and based on the signs and symptoms present in each person. For example, a variety of drugs may be used to treat gait abnormalities. Physical therapy can strengthen muscles, while special devices or appliances can assist in walking and other activities of daily life.[3]

In acquired (non-genetic and non-inherited) forms of cerebellar degeneration, some signs and symptoms may be reversible with treatment of the underlying cause.[4] For example, paraneoplastic cerebellar degeneration may improve after successful treatment of the underlying cancer. For alcoholic/nutritional cerebellar degeneration, symptoms are often relieved with discontinuation of alcohol abuse, a normal diet and dietary supplementation with thiamine and other B vitamins.[5]
Last updated: 12/15/2014

What is the long-term outlook for people with cerebellar degeneration?

The long-term outlook (prognosis) for people with cerebellar degeneration varies depending on the underlying cause.[3]
Last updated: 12/15/2014

See Disclaimer regarding information on this site. Some links on this page may take you to organizations outside of the National Institutes of Health.