Friedreich ataxia (FA) is a rare genetic condition that causes progressive damage to the nervous system leading to impaired muscle coordination (ataxia) that worsens over time. It is the most common form of hereditary ataxia in the United States, affecting about 1 in every 50,000 people. The disorder is named after Nikolaus Friedreich, a German doctor who described the condition in the 1860s.
Friedreich ataxia adversely affects both the central and peripheral nervous systems. This damage results in impaired sensory functions and uncoordinated movements. In addition, some patients may also develop problems with their heart and spine. The onset of diabetes is another noted complication. The disorder does not affect thinking and reasoning abilities (cognitive functions).
Symptom onset is predominantly between the ages of 5 to 15 years of age. Disease progression is varied and differs from patient to patient. However, within 10 to 20 years after the onset of first symptoms, most patients are confined to a wheelchair. As the disease progresses, patients become increasingly incapacitated and often have a reduced life expectancy.
A diagnosis of Freidrich’s ataxia affects every facet of a patient’s life and while there are no treatments, supportive care is critical to helping the patient lead fuller lives. Connecting with advocacy groups can inform patients about experts in the field, support groups and ongoing research. Some organizations supporting patients diagnosed with muscular dystrophies are listed below. Inclusion on this list is not an endorsement by Nurturing Neurons Guild