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How is Friedreich Ataxia Treated?

A look at the different therapies and healthcare providers involved in the treatment of Friedreich ataxia.

A young woman used a physioball during an appointment with a physical therapist. Physical therapy is often a part of treatment for Friedreich ataxia.

Updated on February 15, 2024

Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) is the most common type of hereditary ataxia. It is caused by an inherited mutation to the FXN gene. This gene contains instructions for making a protein called frataxin. Cells require this protein to make energy and regulate iron levels. The inability to produce frataxin causes cells to deteriorate and die.

In FRDA, this affects the cells of the nervous system and heart. In most cases, symptoms begin during childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood, though there are subtypes of FRDA that occur later.

What is the treatment for FRDA?

There is no cure for FRDA, and treatment focuses on addressing symptoms, addressing complications, and improving quality of life for people living with the condition. Treatment will change over time as the condition progresses.

Treatment for FRDA typically involves a multidisciplinary team made up of different providers with different specialties, who oversee different aspects of treatment. Because FRDA is a disease that primarily affects the nervous system, treatment is often overseen by a neurologist.

Therapies and providers involved in the treatment of FRDA may include:

Physical and occupational therapy

FRDA causes problems with movement, balance, coordination, and strength. Physical and occupational therapy may help improve function and help a person with FRDA find ways to work with changes in function (for example, by using assistive devices). Physical therapy focuses on improving a person’s ability to move, while occupational therapy focuses on performing specific tasks (such as tasks related to work, school, or personal care).

Genetic counseling

FRDA is diagnosed with genetic testing. A genetic counselor is a healthcare provider with specialized training in genetics, genetic testing, and counseling individuals and families who are affected by genetic disorders. A genetic counselor can help you understand treatment options, refer you to other healthcare providers, and guide you toward support and resources.

Speech therapy

FRDA often causes speech and language disorders, as well as difficulty with swallowing. A speech therapist (speech-language pathologist) can provide treatment to help address these symptoms.

Mental health and support

Counseling, therapy, and social support should be a focus of a treatment for people living with FRDA, as well as caregivers and family members. A counselor can provide guidance with communication, how to discuss the diagnosis, and ways to cope with the mental and emotional burden of FRDA. People whose lives are affected by the condition should also consider participating in support groups and contacting organizations that provide support.

Medication and clinical trials

A medication to treat FRDA became available in 2023. The drug can help slow the progression of FRDA, but it cannot alter the course of the disease. A variety of different treatments are under development, including gene replacement therapies. A person with FRDA may consider participating in a clinical trial for therapies under development—and if this is something you are interested in, talk to your healthcare team.

Other specialists and therapies

The above is not a comprehensive list. Treatment for FRDA can be a bit different for each person, and additional therapies and healthcare providers may play a role in treatment as FRDA progresses. FRDA can cause a wide range of disorders and complications. A treatment plan may include medications to manage pain, cardiac disorders, and diabetes. It may also require treatment from an orthopedic surgeon to address problems with the spine and feet.

Article sources open article sources

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National Organization for Rare Disorders. Friedreich’s Ataxia.
David R Lynch, Kim Schadt, et al. Friedreich Ataxia: Multidisciplinary Clinical Care. Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, 2021. Vol. 14.
Gabriella Paparella, Cristina Straga, et al. Effectiveness of rehabilitation intervention in persons with Friedreich ataxia. Frontiers in Neurology, 2023. Vol. 14.
Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. Occupational vs Physical Therapy.
NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms. Genetic counselor.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genetic Counseling.
Tommaso Schirinzi, Andrea Sancesario, et al. Speech and Language Disorders in Friedreich Ataxia: Highlights on Phenomenology, Assessment, and Therapy. The Cerebellum, 2020. Vol. 19.
Physiopedia. Friedreich's Ataxia.
Donna-Marie King. The Role of Therapy: Addressing Mental and Emotional Needs of Children with Rare Diseases. tgen — Part of City of Hope. November 28, 2023.
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. FDA approves first treatment for Friedreich’s ataxia. February 28, 2023.
Friedreich's Ataxia Research Alliance. Research Pipeline.

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