Friedreich's ataxia is an inherited (genetic) disorder that causes certain nerve cells to deteriorate over time. In many cases, this disorder also affects the heart, certain bones and cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. The illness typically begins with difficulty walking. People with Friedreich's ataxia develop clumsy, shaky movements of the legs (called gait ataxia) during childhood or early adolescence. In rare cases, symptoms appear in infants and in middle-aged adults. As the disease gets worse, people may develop bony deformities of the spine and feet, loss of sensation in the limbs, speech problems, abnormal eye movements, heart disease and diabetes.
To continue reading this article, you must login
Subscribe to Harvard Health Online for immediate access to health news and information from Harvard Medical School.