Cerebellar degeneration is a process in which neurons in the cerebellum – the area of the brain that controls coordination and balance – deteriorate and die.
Cerebellar degeneration may be the result of inherited genetic mutations that alter the normal production of specific proteins that are necessary for the survival of neurons.
Diseases that are specific to the brain, as well as diseases that occur in other parts of the body, can cause neurons to die in the cerebellum. Neurological diseases that feature cerebellar degeneration include:
- Ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke, when there is lack of blood flow or oxygen to the cerebellum
- Cerebellar cortical atrophy, multisystem atrophy, and olivopontocerebellar degeneration, progressive degenerative disorders in which cerebellar degeneration is a key feature
- Friedreich’s ataxia, and other spinocerebellar ataxias, which are caused by inherited genetic mutations that result in ongoing loss of neurons in the cerebellum, brain stem, and spinal cord
- Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease) in which abnormal proteins cause inflammation in the brain, including the cerebellum
- Multiple sclerosis, in which damage to the insulating membrane (myelin) that wraps around and protects nerve cells can involve the cerebellum
Other diseases that can cause cerebellar degeneration include:
- Chronic alcohol abuse that leads to temporary or permanent cerebellar damage
- Paraneoplastic disorders, in which a malignancy (cancer) in other parts of the body produces substances that cause immune system cells to attack neurons in the cerebellum
Symptoms of cerebellar degeneration include:
- A wide-based, unsteady, lurching walk, often accompanied by a back and forth tremor in the trunk of the body
- Slow, unsteady and jerky movement of the arms or legs
- Slowed and slurred speech
- Nystagmus – rapid, small movements of the eyes
Cerebellar degeneration is progressive. There is currently no cure or treatment to slow or improve the condition. In terms of supportive care, have your home evaluated by an occupational therapist for safety. It is also recommended that you see a physical therapist to assess your ability to take care of your daily needs and see a movement disorders specialist to help control tremors and balance problems.