Can a fall trigger an early onset of ataxia?

I am 46. I was diagnosed in April of this year with cerebellar ataxia (45 then). My neurologist thinks my underlying cause is Multiple System Atrophy. I have some of the hallmark signs: orthostatic hyertension, hot cross bun imaging on my MRI, heat intolerant, and ataxia. But, all these are minimal except for ataxia. I've got an aggressive form of this terrible disease. last November, I took a tumble halfway down the stairs at my friend's. I was very intoxicated that night. Before that, I was a drinker for 24 years, about 6 of those years as a binge drinker. I woke up that morning with no pain in my head. In my condition, can a fall trigger an early onset of this disease?



Hi Corey, welcome to the group:-)
Yes, trauma can trigger SCA. But, it’s widely recognised that alcohol abuse
can also do it. Only your Neurologist could give you the best advice on this.

If a genetic link has been ruled out, and sometimes this is impossible, then the
probability is that the Neurologist may consider one of the above as a trigger.

Best wishes :slight_smile: xB

Hi Cory,

I'm 50 and at 45 I was drunk and fell and hit my head. It started with dizziness and has lead to many other symptoms. I have had numerous MRI's and the Neurologist says I have degeneration in my Cerebellum. I told my Neurologist about this and they said it is not related. I was going through a lot of stress at the time and thought it may be related. They have now diagnosed me with Ataxia. It's weird that I lead a normal, healthy life until I bumped my head. I get very depressed because I can't do the things that I used to. I have 2 kids that keep me going.

My dizziness happened right away but I have Nystagmus in my eyes also. I do not drive; probably about 2 years know. I do live by myself and still do everything for myself.

I don't drink anymore and I don't think it helps. I don't use a cane or walker but my walk and vision have been affected. I walk on my Treadmill a few times a week and do numerous exercises. I'm going to try Botox of my vocal cords on October 8th since it affects my voice also.. My vocal cords tremor. I have had swallow studies done and they are fine.

Dear Corey, Welcome to this group! There are wonderful people on this site that can offer support and understanding! My best to you..., ;o)

Corey, Its possible that trauma triggered the disease but the trauma may not be the fall but years of alcohol abuse. If you can eliminate alcohol from your life do so immediately. It will only help your health and symptoms. If not, consider getting help to do so or even an evaluation for alcoholism. Your neurologist may not know enough about alcoholism symptoms to help you with this. Find a specialist. I say this because my mother was a chronic alcoholic and was told her ataxia was because of years of drinking which is often the case. Turns out it was hereditary and I got it as well (alcoholism too). I quit drinking 25 years befor any signs of ataxia showed up. Even with all this I’ve learned that I can improve my symptoms and the quality of my life. Keep reading this site and you will learn much.

I think you've got two questions:

1. Can a fall trigger an early onset of/cause ataxia? (Yes)

2. Did your fall trigger your ataxia?

My answer to the second question would be: probably not. First, I'd note that 46 isn't a particularly early onset for cerebellar ataxia. Early onset would be pre-40s. Second, it sounds very much like your alcohol over-use is a more likely contributor than the single fall, particularly given your neurologist's comment that it doesn't look like the result of injury. Alternatively, it's just genetic.

When we have some bad health, it's natural to try to attach it to a single cause. We want to know why something's happened to us, and we think back to what's different in our recent past that might have made it happen. In health research we call this "recall bias", to describe the fact that people are more likely to have thought about all the things that led up to poor health and remember them, whereas people in good health are less likely to remember. So because you've developed ataxia, you remember having fallen a year ago - but it doesn't necessarily mean the two things are or aren't connected.

Good for you! Focus on eating well, taking vitamins, and exercise. Also get checked for vitamin D deficiency and sleep apnea. All of these things have made a difference for me and my balance is improving quite a bit.

I had a bad fall and then started falling ALL the time. At first I thought it was due to having sprained my ankle really badly in the bad fall – but then started having other symptoms that got worse quickly, and falling/ losing balance in ways that didn’t make sense to blame on my ankle ( like falling flat on my face getting out of bed). I wasn’t a drinker, for what it’s worth.

I had always been clumsy, but had managed to work and raise kids without a problem - just not an athlete :slight_smile: . But several years ago It quickly got to the point where I couldn’t balance to walk at all. Also was going through a hugely stressful situation and having lots of autoimmune issues. My doctor says it’s encephalitic cerebellar ataxia. I think the main trigger, for me, was a surgery that had a plastic hernia mesh, that’s when my body started to fall apart completely. And things like a fall, or virus, that I could of shrugged off and quickly recovered from before – became a big deal that snowballed.

I believe that yes, it's possible that the fall might have caused it to happen sooner.


I also have Nystagmus in my eyes. I was diagnosed in 2011 (36 year old) with Ataxia (unknown type) but I began wearing glasses in 2010 because of stabismus (so I wear prism in my eyeglasses), a symptom of my Ataxia. My neurologist says it is probably a genetic Ataxia but, I hit my head pretty hard on ice and had a minor concussion about 15 years ago (when I hit my head, it effected my eyesight for half an hour). Gradually after that, I slowly began having eyesight problems. At 32, I started having balance problems and so forth. My neurologist says that if the Ataxia was cause by the concussion, I would have had my symptoms before! but I am still not so sure.


Hi Corey

They can rule out the alcohol thing as a cause of ataxia by doing this test. I don't remember the name anymore (it's been 10 years ago), but they put several very fine needles in both legs and then some electroshocks in 3 phases. That way the nerve system, especially the end nerve system in your legs is measured to see if alcohol is the cause. Nothing was wrong with mine, so I was diagnosed with idiopathic late-onset cerebellar ataxia, iloca for short..meaning: they don't know where it comes from. I sense that the alcohol thing is bothering you and that you did this to yourself. This test might help you to know than not to know. That gnawing feeling is a killer. Get rid of it:)

Hello again Corey

You are focusing on the alcohol thing as a why not get the test I said something about earlier. That way you will know straight away if your ataxia is alcohol related. Hoping for it to disappear after 18 months of abstinence..well, hoping is good. But what IF alcohol is NOT the cause and your ataxia hasn't disappeared after these long months. You'll only feel slapped in the face and have another disapppointment to deal with, no? Go get that test, I had mine in an Academic Hospital here in the Netherlands and pretty sure they have this test in the States too. This ataxia is a rare thing worldwide, our group is VERY small, and all researchers of the cerebellum are in contact and share their knowledge. It is yet still such an unexplored area, they still know very little of the brain compared to many other diseases. At least, that's what my neurologist tells me. SO, be brave and tackle it now, GO get the test and then your mind can make its next step:) hugs from Holland, Elle.


Acupuncture? I have been going to an acupuncturist and she said I have poor circulation. I got some Chinese Medicine coming next week. And I had a stem cell procedure, but that did nothing. They say it takes up to 9 months for stem cells to kick in. (Personally, I think the whole procedure is horse sh*t!)

If it's alcohol-related, I read that there's a chance for recovery after 18 months if you abstain from alcohol. I haven't drank since January of this year.

Hey Corey, you actually got me rummaging through some old papers here:) because I was sure that the test I had was not a genetic one. Here goes, I found it: it's called an EMG (electro myografie). Best of luck!

Hello again Corey,

You are welcome. And don't mind you asking at all. I wrote a blog called 'idiopathic late-onset cerebellar ataxia' last September. So you can read my story there if you like. Talking is no problem here..some times they even like me to shut up for a bit:) nah, just kidding. I also have trouble with writing..can't even recognise my own handwriting when I want to read the note a little later. My hand wants to keep up with the speed in the upstairs department resulting in non-readable. If I take it slowly, it's very readable but looks like the writing of a 6 year old. I used to have a pretty nice signature, but it's not a work of art anymore either. As for my legs..well in the blog you can read I use a 4-legged crutch indoors and outdoors I'm in a wheelchair. GREAT walking aids in the house are also walls, chairs, pieces of furniture Just about anything you can hold on to. That way I get around faster because with my 4-legged friend I'm not exactly speedy gonzales. BUT, don't let me scare you off: I got the 1st symptoms in 2002, diagnosed in 2004, it's progressive but very slowly. I'm talking about 10 to 12 years here. You were diagnosed just shortly, as I understand. So you are probably still in the stage of 'is this really happening to me' and anger. It takes a while to settle in. Try to laugh a lot, boost up the medicine there is, I promise. Anymore questions, just shoot:) okay. Hugs from Holland again, Elle.