Athetoid cerebral palsy is a type of cerebral palsy that causes uncontrollable muscle movements. It’s present in infancy or childhood and may be more severe than other types of cerebral palsy.

Athetoid cerebral palsy is a type of cerebral palsy that causes involuntary muscle movements. Cerebral palsy is a group of neurological disorders that permanently affect muscle coordination and body movement. It begins in infancy and occurs from damage or abnormalities inside the brain.

Athetoid cerebral palsy results from damage to a part of the brain called the basal ganglia. Athetoid cerebral palsy is the second most common type of cerebral palsy. It’s typically more severe than other types.

Athetoid cerebral palsy affects muscle control. It causes involuntary movements, meaning the person cannot control the movements.

The medical term “athetoid motions” is used to describe body motions that fall into these groups:

  • Dystonia: Dystonia movements are motions that twist parts of the body.
  • Chorea: Fast, repetitive, and dance-like motions are called chorea.
  • Athetosis: Movements that are slow and writhing are called athetosis.

Because of these repeated, uncontrolled motions, people with athetoid cerebral palsy can experience additional symptoms, such as:

Symptoms of athetoid cerebral palsy typically appear within the first few months of a child’s life.

A part of the brain called the basal ganglia sends signals from the brain that control motion and the spinal cord. Children with athetoid cerebral palsy are born with an injury to their basal ganglia that disrupts these signals.

This injury can happen during pregnancy, childbirth, or immediately after birth.

Conditions that cause injury to the basal ganglia include:

Some factors can increase the risk of injury to the basal ganglia, in turn increasing the risk of athetoid cerebral palsy. These risk factors include:

  • complications during pregnancy
  • premature birth
  • a traumatic brain injury in infancy or early childhood
  • being one of twins or other multiples
  • exposure to specific chemicals
  • jaundice
  • low birth weight
  • cytomegalovirus and some other infections

4 types of cerebral palsy

  • Spastic cerebral palsy: Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type of cerebral palsy. People with this type of cerebral palsy experience muscle stiffness and jerking movements.
  • Dyskinetic cerebral palsy: Dyskinetic cerebral palsy includes athetoid cerebral palsy as well as choreoathetoid and dystonic cerebral palsies. This type of cerebral palsy causes difficulty controlling the arms, legs, feet, and arms.
  • Ataxic cerebral palsy: Ataxic cerebral palsy causes difficulties with balance and coordination. People with this type of cerebral palsy sometimes have difficulty with fine motor activities, such as writing.
  • Mixed cerebral palsy: Mixed cerebral palsy causes people to have symptoms of more than one of the other types of cerebral palsy.
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Athetoid cerebral palsy is typically diagnosed during early childhood.

A pediatrician or other physician can assess key factors, such as a child’s motor skills and coordination, as well as the milestones they’ve hit and any symptoms they have.

If a doctor suspects athetoid cerebral palsy, additional testing can help confirm the diagnosis. Common tests include:

  • Imaging tests: Imaging tests like MRIs and CT scans allow doctors to look at the brain. Imaging can show damage to the basal ganglia that indicates athetoid cerebral palsy.
  • Blood tests: Blood tests can help rule out other health conditions.
  • Electroencephalography (EEG): An EEG can measure electrical activity in the brain.
  • Electromyography (EMG): An EMG checks for muscle weakness and muscle and nerve connectivity.

There’s no cure for athetoid cerebral palsy, but treatments can help manage symptoms.

Treatment aims to improve the quality of life. The exact treatments depend on factors such as the severity of the symptoms. Treatments commonly include:

  • Medications: Medications for athetoid cerebral palsy help manage pain and other symptoms. Options include medications such as baclofen and levodopa.
  • Braces: Braces can help support limbs by adding stability, control, and balance.
  • Assistive devices: Assistive devices, including mobility aids such as walkers, can increase mobility and independence.
  • Botox injections: Botox can relax muscles. It can sometimes help relieve some of the symptoms of athetoid cerebral palsy.
  • Deep brain stimulation: This treatment uses electrodes placed in the brain to help control motion.
  • Physical therapy: Working with a physical therapist can help increase mobility, balance, and strength.

Athetoid cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition. However, it’s not progressive, meaning it won’t worsen with time.

Athetoid cerebral palsy may affect a person’s life span, but it depends on factors such as how severe a person’s symptoms are. Severe symptoms can lead to complications that can result in a shorter life. Not everyone with athetoid cerebral palsy will experience these complications, though.

Athetoid cerebral palsy is the second most common type of cerebral palsy. It causes a lack of muscle control. It’s often more severe than other types of cerebral palsy.

While there’s no cure for athetoid cerebral palsy, medications and other treatments can help manage symptoms for an improved quality of life.