Ataxia-telangiectasia is a rare childhood disease that affects the brain and other parts of the body.
Ataxia refers to uncoordinated movements, such as walking. Telangiectasias are enlarged blood vessels (capillaries) just below the surface of the skin. Telangiectasias appear as tiny, red, spider-like veins.
Ataxia-telangiectasia is inherited, which means it is passed down through families. It is an autosomal recessive trait. This means that both parents must provide a defective gene for the child to have symptoms of the disorder.
The disease results from defects in the ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM) gene. Defects in this gene can lead to abnormal cell death in various places of the body, including the part of the brain that helps coordinate movement.
Boys and girls are equally affected.
Decreased coordination of movements (ataxia) in late childhood that can include ataxic gait (cerebellar ataxia), jerky gait, unsteadiness
Decreasing mental development, slows or stops after age 10 - 12
Discoloration of skin areas exposed to sunlight
Discoloration of skin (coffee-with-milk-colored spots)
Enlarged blood vessels in skin of nose, ears, and inside of the elbow and knee
Enlarged blood vessels in the whites of the eyes
Jerky or abnormal eye movements (nystagmus) late in the disease
Premature graying of the hair
Sensitivity to radiation, including medical x-rays
Severe respiratory infections that keep coming back (recurring)
Exams and Tests
The doctor will perform a physical exam. Examination may show signs of the following:
Below normal sized tonsils, lymph nodes, and spleen
Call your health care provider if your child develops symptoms of this disorder.
Couples with a family history of this condition who are considering pregnancy may consider genetic counseling.
Parents of a child with this disorder may have a slight increased risk of cancer. They should have genetic counseling and more intensive cancer screenings.
Gatti R. Ataxia-Telangiectasia. 1999 Mar 19 [Updated March 11, 2010]. In: Pagon RA, Adam MP, Bird TD, et al., editors. GeneReviews [serial online]. Seattle, Wash: University of Washington, Seattle; 1993-2013. Accessed September 8, 2013.
Chad Haldeman-Englert, MD, FACMG, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Section on Medical Genetics, Winston-Salem, NC. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.