Friedreich's ataxia is an inherited disease that causes progressive damage to the nervous system resulting in symptoms ranging from muscle weakness and speech problems to heart disease. Ataxia results from the degeneration of nerve tissue in the spinal cord and of nerves that control muscle movement in the arms and legs. Symptoms usually begin between the ages of 5 and 15 but can appear as early as 18 months or as late as 30 years of age. The first symptom is usually difficulty in walking. 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 in) may be early signs. Rapid, rhythmic, involuntary movements of the eyeball 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 include chest pain, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations. Some individuals may develop diabetes. Doctors diagnose Friedreich's ataxia by performing a careful clinical examination, which includes a medical history and a thorough physical examination. Several tests may be performed, including electromyogram (EMG) and genetic testing.
|Friedreich's Ataxia Research Alliance (FARA)
P.O. Box 1537
Springfield, VA 22151
Tel: (703) 426-1576
Fax: (703) 425-0643
4301 Connecticut Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20008-2369
Tel: 202-966-5557 800 336-GENE (4363)
|Muscular Dystrophy Association
3300 East Sunrise Drive
Tucson, AZ 85718-3208
Tel: 520-529-2000 800-572-1717
|National Ataxia Foundation (NAF)
2600 Fernbrook Lane North
Minneapolis, MN 55447-4752
|National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
55 Kenosia Avenue
Danbury, CT 06810
Tel: 203-744-0100 Voice Mail 800-999-NORD (6673)
Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892
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Last updated December 5, 2013