Assessing Children with Poor Coordination Can Be Tricky - A Review on Ataxia and Ataxia Mimickers and a Study of Three Children with Severe Epilepsy.
While ataxia is a relatively common presenting feature in pediatric patients, it represents only one possible cause of uncoordinated movements. Other possible causes of uncoordinated movements include ingestion of toxic substances, musculoskeletal diseases, psychogenic disorders, extrapyramidal movement disorders, peripheral neuropathies, spasticity from any cause, and epilepsy. Therefore, primary health care providers must recognize and exclude other etiologies of uncoordinated movements before attaching the label "ataxia" to any patient presenting with poor coordination. Once the presence of ataxia is confirmed, the cause should be investigated. As ataxia may be vestibular, sensory, or cerebellar in origin, medical practitioners must evaluate the diverse symptoms and signs to effectively differentiate the various types of ataxia. Three case studies are presented to illustrate the complexity associated with the assessment of ataxia. Each case will discuss a pediatric patient who displays cerebellar ataxia as a concurrent feature of a gene-specific developmental and epileptic encephalopathy. These cases will provide an example of how ataxia may be differentiated from other causes of uncoordinated movements related to epilepsy and anti-seizure medications, namely: nonconvulsive seizures, postictal state, and medication side effects or toxicity. The assessment of poor balance can be challenging at times; however, with knowledge of the differential diagnosis of poor balance, medical practitioners will be able to confidently determine the presence of true ataxia from various ataxia mimickers, thereby allowing for timely and accurate diagnosis, and appropriate management.