What is Gluten Ataxia?
Gluten Ataxia is an autoimmune disorder in which during the process of digesting gluten certain antibodies are released that attack the brain. Gluten is extensively found in wheat, barley, and rye. Most people do not have any trouble in digesting this protein there are some who are sensitive to this gluten and find it tough to digest. Such people have severe problems with digestion to an extent that the small intestine gets damaged whenever they ingest any food that contains gluten. In some situations, the body’s response to gluten can be so severe that the central nervous system gets affected. This affects the way a person walks and hence is termed as Gluten Ataxia.[1,2]
However, it has been observed that people sensitive to gluten and with a known diagnosis of Gluten Ataxia do very well if they follow a strict gluten free diet. It is extremely vital for Gluten Ataxia to be diagnosed correctly as this is one form of ataxia that is treatable and curable.[1,2]
What Happens In Gluten Ataxia?
A person will have Gluten Ataxia when they eat gluten and during the process of digestion of this gluten antibodies are released that mistakenly attack the cerebellum. The function of the cerebellum is to facilitate movement and plays a direct role in balance, speech, and ambulation. Thus, if the cerebellum gets affected it directly affects the way a person walks. The symptoms of Gluten Ataxia start of mildly but if left untreated can lead to permanent damage.
It has also been observed that some people with a known diagnosis of Gluten Ataxia also have cerebellar atrophy in which the cerebellum shrinks. Since Gluten Ataxia is something relatively new, diagnosis of this condition is quite tough.
What Are The Symptoms Of Gluten Ataxia?
The symptoms of Gluten Ataxia start off very mildly. The person may not even notice that something is wrong with him or her. However as the disease progresses the symptoms worsen and become debilitating. The symptoms of Gluten Ataxia are quite similar to that of other forms of ataxia which again makes the diagnosis of this condition quite difficult.
The symptoms that a person with Gluten Ataxia will experience include problems with movement in general like going from one room to another or movement of the arm. The person will be unsteady and will have problems with coordination. Buttoning buttons and fluency in writing also gets affected in people with Gluten Ataxia. Speech also at times gets affected along with vision problems in people with Gluten Ataxia.
As the disease progresses with time the person will have episodes of tripping and falling. The gait will become significantly abnormal. The person will also find it tough to keep his balance. These symptoms will however improve if gluten is completely removed from the diet. If this is not effective, then in most cases the damage caused is permanent.
How is Gluten Ataxia Diagnosed?
Gluten Ataxia is never the first choice of suspicion in physicians as the symptoms are so similar to other forms of ataxia. This is the reason why many physicians do not even test it. As the condition is quite new, the tests used to diagnose it are also quite new. Researchers suggest using tests to check for celiac disease in order to diagnose Gluten Ataxia.
A positive test for celiac disease in a person with symptoms of ataxia more or less points towards Gluten Ataxia. Additionally, if the symptoms of a person improve with a strict gluten free diet then the diagnosis is more or less confirmed.
How is Gluten Ataxia Treated?
Treatment of Gluten Ataxia revolves around elimination of any form of gluten from the diet. It should be noted that even if a small amount of gluten is left in the body the symptoms may continue to progress and worsen. It may take some time after stopping intake of gluten to improve.
However, there are many physicians who do not agree that elimination of gluten from the diet improves Gluten Ataxia and hence they do not recommend it. However, there is some data that suggests that people with Gluten Ataxia who remove gluten from their diet see improvements in their symptoms.
If Gluten Ataxia is left untreated then the symptoms gradually worsen and may even cause permanent disability. Thus it is recommended that if a person has symptoms of ataxia and feels sensitive to gluten then it is recommended to eliminate all forms of gluten from the diet and there will certainly be improvement in the symptoms of Gluten Ataxia.