Redbridge SERC

Friedreich’s Ataxia


Friedreich's ataxia is the most common type of hereditary ataxia (caused by genes you've inherited).

It's thought to affect at least 1 in every 50,000 people.

Signs and symptoms of Friedreich's ataxia can include:

  • problems with balance and co-ordination, often causing wobbliness, clumsiness and frequent falls 
  • increasingly slurred, slow and unclear speech
  • increasing weakness in the legs – many people find walking difficult and need to use a wheelchair after around 10 to 20 years
  • difficulty swallowing 
  • abnormal curvature of the spine (scoliosis)
  • total or partial vision loss and hearing loss 
  • diabetes
  • thickening of the heart muscles (cardiomyopathy), which can cause chest pain, breathlessness and an irregular heartbeat
  • loss of sensation in the hands and feet

The symptoms of Friedreich's ataxia usually get gradually worse over many years.

People with the condition tend to have a shorter life expectancy than normal.

Many people live until at least their 30s, and some can live into their 60s or beyond.

Fact sheets

Training / Help

* Newbridge Outreach (Medical and Physical)

* Joseph Clark (Vision)

* Roding (Hearing) 

* Physiotherapy 



Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the symptoms of FA?
    • loss of coordination (ataxia) in the arms and legs.
    • fatigue - energy deprivation and muscle loss.
    • vision impairment, hearing loss, and slurred speech.
    • aggressive scoliosis (curvature of the spine)
    • diabetes mellitus (insulin - dependent, in most cases)
    • enlarged heart 
  • Can a Student with FA do PE?

    Moving and accessing forms of PE is usually highly recommended, as it is vital to encourage students to be as mobile as  possible.

    Take advice from Physio, but usually gym/ cardio activities are easy to differentiate and pace.

  • Is there a cure for FA?

    There is currently lots of research looking into genetic cures for FA

    In the meantime, support from Physio and OT are vital to support and maintain the range of movement Students have

    Students with FA will be closely monitored for changes in their heart, vision, hearing, diabetes 

  • Can you die from FA?

    Life expectancy may be affected, and many people with Friedreich ataxia die in adulthood from the associated heart disease.

    However, some people with less severe symptoms of Friedreich ataxia live much longer, sometimes into their sixties or seventies.