Gluten Ataxia – Symptoms & Treatment

What is Gluten Ataxia?

Gluten Ataxia is a pathological condition that is caused as a result of gluten ingestion. Studies suggest that Gluten Ataxia should be considered in people with sporadic ataxia and have gluten sensitivity. Gluten is a protein found in abundance in wheat, rye, and barley. People with gluten sensitivity are not able to absorb this protein. This results in a variety of GI issues. Sometimes, the reaction of the body towards gluten becomes excessive. This causes an immune mediated response in which the defense mechanism of the body starts attacking the central nervous system. This is what results in Gluten Ataxia.[1,2]

The antibodies that are produced due to ingestion of gluten in susceptible population attacks the cerebellum of the brain. This is the part that controls movement and balance. Thus, Gluten Ataxia affects the balance, posture, ability to ambulate, and even speech of an individual. The symptoms are of gradual onset and worsen with time. Some research suggests that people with Gluten Ataxia also have concurrent cerebellar atrophy in which the cerebellum shrinks from its normal size.[1,2]

If Gluten Ataxia is not promptly diagnosed and treated, it may cause permanent brain damage. It is important for people with Gluten Ataxia to avoid any product that may have gluten in the diet. If done diligently, it can help improve gait and balance and prevent progression of disease. However, diagnosis of Gluten Ataxia is quite difficult since the disease is quite new and not much data is available. As of now, research is still ongoing for faster diagnosis and better treatment options for this rare immune-mediated medical condition.[1,2]

What are the Symptoms of Gluten Ataxia?

As stated, the symptoms of Gluten Ataxia start off as mild and progress with time to the extent that the affected individual becomes wheelchair bound and quite debilitated. The symptoms of Gluten Ataxia are quite common with that of other forms of ataxia which acts as yet another hindrance in the early and accurate diagnosis.

The presenting features of Gluten Ataxia include difficulty with ambulation and maintaining balance as is the case with any form of ataxia. The person also has difficulty controlling arm movements. There will also be problems with coordination. The person will have problems with writing and buttoning buttons.[2]

Speech problems are also seen in people with Gluten Ataxia. In some cases, ophthalmological problems are also observed in patients with Gluten Ataxia. Even though Gluten Ataxia occurs as a result of gluten sensitivity but there are hardly any digestive issues which present as a symptom. These symptoms are barely noticeable to begin with but gradually worsen with time as the disease advances.[2]

The first thing that gets affected by this condition is the gait. The person at first will have frequent episodes of trip and fall and will gradually start having an abnormal gait. With time, the person will start having episodes of dizziness and will frequently lose balance when getting up from a sitting position. The next skill to be affected is writing and buttoning buttons. If the condition is diagnosed in its early stages then all these abnormalities can be reversed by just eliminating gluten from the diet. In case Gluten Ataxia is left untreated then these changes can become permanent.[2]

How Is Gluten Ataxia Diagnosed?

Since Gluten Ataxia is a new and rare disease, it is quite difficult to get a specific diagnosis of Gluten Ataxia. It is also possible that physicians may not even test for this condition as the symptoms are quite similar to others forms of ataxia. This is the reason why new techniques are used to confirm a diagnosis of Gluten Ataxia.[2]

Researchers have suggested using methods to diagnose celiac disease as a way to diagnose Gluten Ataxia. In fact, researchers state that if an individual is found to have gluten sensitivity and have ataxia then tests would be conducted in the form of blood work to diagnose Gluten Ataxia. If practicing gluten free diet diligently results in improvement of symptoms then the diagnosis of Gluten Ataxia is confirmed.[2]

How is Gluten Ataxia Treated?

The frontline treatment for Gluten Ataxia is completely abstaining from any form of gluten in the diet. It should be noted that even minimal amount of gluten in the diet can lead to worsening of symptoms of Gluten Ataxia. It may take a while for the improvement in the symptoms to be observed despite removing gluten from diet entirely. The individual should ensure to check all the ingredients while eating outside so that he or she does not consume gluten by accident.[2]

However, there are cases where Gluten Ataxia is not accurately diagnosed and the symptoms may be taken as idiopathic ataxia and the physician may not remove gluten from the diet making the symptoms worse. In cases where Gluten Ataxia is not properly diagnosed and treated, there can be significant damage caused to the cerebellum resulting in permanent abnormalities.[2]

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