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Side Effect: Loss of Coordination or Balance (Ataxia)

What is Loss of Coordination or Balance (Ataxia)?

A loss of coordination or balance, also known as ataxia, refers to the inability to maintain control over the body's movements or to remain upright.

What does Loss of Coordination or Balance (Ataxia) look like?

A loss of coordination or balance may feel like unsteadiness, dizziness, double vision, or a sense of being off-balance. Patients may have trouble with fine motor movements, such as holding a pen or buttoning a shirt. In severe cases, patients may have difficulty walking or standing.

Who gets Loss of Coordination or Balance (Ataxia)?

A loss of balance and coordination can be caused by dehydration, low red blood cells (anemia), low blood sugar, infection, anxiety, or specific types of cancer or cancer treatments. Cancer of the brain, spine, or nerves (including tumors that are pressing against your nerves) often cause balance issues. Radiation therapy and the use of medications such as high dose cytarabine (Ara-C) or high bolus doses of fluorouracil (5-FU) can also cause issues with balance or coordination.

How to prevent Loss of Coordination or Balance (Ataxia)

To help prevent issues with balance and coordination it’s important to stay hydrated. If you start to notice dizziness or a loss of balance take your time when standing and consider using a walking aid if necessary; this will help prevent falls. Physical therapy or occupational therapy to improve muscle strength and coordination can also be helpful.

How to treat Loss of Coordination or Balance (Ataxia)

Treatment of a loss of coordination or balance will depend on the underlying cause. Medications that can be used to reduce dizziness include meclizine (Antivert®), dimenhydrinate (Dramamine®), scopolamine (Transderm-Scop®), prochlorperazine (Compazine®), and promethazine (Phenergan®). In cases where a tumor is causing neurological symptoms, radiation therapy or surgery may be indicated.


1) Medina HN, Liu Q, Cao C, Yang L. Balance and vestibular function and survival in US cancer survivors. Cancer 2021;127(21):4022-4029.

2) Kneis S, Wehrle A, Müller J, et al. It's never too late - balance and endurance training improves functional performance, quality of life, and alleviates neuropathic symptoms in cancer survivors suffering from chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy: results of a randomized controlled trial. BMC Cancer 2019;19(1):414.

Created: June 7, 2024 Updated: June 7, 2024