What is Athetoid Cerebral Palsy?

BrainAthetoid cerebral palsy (CP), also known as dyskinetic, dystonic, or choreoathetoid CP, is one of the four types of cerebral palsy. The other three are spastic, ataxic, and mixed. Athetoid CP is one of the lesser-diagnosed types, accounting for around 10% to 15% of all cerebral palsy diagnoses. Athetoid CP is characterized by involuntary, or uncontrollable, muscle movements. If a doctor recently diagnosed your child with athetoid CP, here is what you need to know.

What Causes Athetoid Cerebral Palsy?

Interruptions or malformations during fetal brain development causes athetoid cerebral palsy; specifically, those involving the basal ganglia in the brain. The basal ganglia controls muscle movements and coordination. Issues during brain development that impact the basal ganglia can compromise the individual’s ability to control voluntary movements.

Damage to the basal ganglia can happen while the fetus is in the womb, during a complicated birth, or shortly after delivery. Complications before birth such as maternal infections or genetic mutations can cause athetoid CP. Delivery problems and birth injuries can also cause this condition. Misuse of birth-assisting tools such as forceps, for example, can damage the baby’s developing brain and result in athetoid cerebral palsy.

Accidents, trauma, infections, and jaundice after birth can also cause athetoid CP. A car accident in the first 28 days after delivery, for example, could damage the basal ganglia, as could someone dropping a newborn baby. Infections such as meningitis and untreated jaundice can also damage the brain. Factors that may increase the risk of athetoid CP include birth injuries, oxygen deprivation during birth, premature birth, low birthweight, and negligent physicians.

Symptoms of Athetoid Cerebral Palsy

A child with athetoid cerebral palsy may exhibit involuntary movements, especially when trying to perform voluntary movements. Common dyskinetic movements include repetitive motions or twisting (dystonia), slow movements (athetosis), and unpredictable or dance-like movements (chorea). Spasticity may accompany dyskinetic movements. Spasticity refers to stiff and/or jerky movements. If your child has athetoid CP, you may notice:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Floppiness (in an infant)
  • Awkward or poor posture
  • Too-fast or too-slow movements
  • Pain while trying to move
  • Involuntary tremors or movements
  • Lack of coordination
  • An increase in involuntary movement when tired or upset
  • Repetitive and sustained muscle movements
  • Trouble talking or feeding
  • Challenges with fine motor skills

Athetoid CP can affect just one part of the body (focal dystonia) or the whole body (generalized dystonia). Cervical focal dystonia impacts the neck muscles, while hemidystonia affects one arm and one leg on the same side of the body. Focal dystonia may only occur when the person tries a certain movement, such as standing. Generalized dystonia can impact mobility, as well as the ability to swallow and/or talk. It may also cause drooling.

Diagnosis and Prognosis for Athetoid Cerebral Palsy

Diagnosing athetoid cerebral palsy is most common around nine months or older, when it becomes possible to notice irregular developmental delays. If parents notice issues with balance and coordination, or involuntary or jerky movements, it could be a sign of cerebral palsy. Further clinical examinations and tests are necessary to make an official athetoid CP diagnosis.

Like all types of cerebral palsy, athetoid CP is irreversible, with no known cure. It will last for the duration of patient’s life. However, it will not increase in severity over time. Athetoid CP generally does not limit an individual’s life expectancy like more severe types of CP can. Furthermore, treatment options such as medications, rehabilitation, braces, and therapies can improve quality of life and potentially give the individual greater control over his or her muscles.

Physical therapy, for example, can improve posture and make daily activities easier. Fine and gross motor skill improvement is possible with occupational therapies, while speech therapy can help children learn how to speak and swallow better. Medications may help with symptoms and complications from athetoid CP.