An inherited disease that causes progressive damage to the nervous system resulting in symptoms ranging from gait disturbance and speech problems to heart disease. Friedreich's ataxia is named after the physician Nicholaus Friedreich, who first described the condition in the 1860s. "Ataxia," which refers to coordination problems such as clumsy or awkward movements and unsteadiness, occurs in many different diseases and conditions. The ataxia of Friedreich's ataxia results from the degeneration of nerve tissue in the spinal cord and of nerves that control muscle movement in the arms and legs. The spinal cord becomes thinner and nerve cells lose some of their myelin sheath — the insular covering on all nerve cells that helps conduct nerve impulses.
Friedreich's ataxia, although rare, is the most prevalent inherited ataxia, affecting about 1 in every 50,000 people in the United States. Males and females are affected equally. Find sites offering symptom and diagnosis details plus treatment and causes.