Athetoid Cerebral Palsy

By Jeff Rasansky

Athetoid Cerebral Palsy

Athetoid Cerebral Palsy

Athetoid cerebral palsy (also known as dyskinetic cerebral palsy) affects 10 to 20 percent of people with the disorder. Athetoid cerebral palsy is characterized by fluctuations in muscle tone between being too tight and too loose. The muscle tone fluctuation often causes spasms. Athetoid cerebral palsy usually affects the whole body instead of a particular region. Interestingly, a large percentage of people with athetoid cerebral palsy have above average intelligence.

Athetoid cerebral palsy is also called dyskinetic cerebral palsy. It’s sometimes confused with adult onset dystonia because the symptoms are the same. However, adult onset dystonia is degenerative, while dyskinetic athetoid cerebral palsy is not.


What Causes Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy?

Athetoid cerebral palsy, like all cerebral palsy types, is caused by brain damage. The damage creating dyskinetic  cerebral palsy symptoms is located in the cerebellum or basal ganglia. These areas of the brain help control movement. Specifically, the cerebellum and basal ganglia are responsible for processing the nerve signals enabling coordinated, smooth movement and maintaining body posture. Damage to these areas can make people develop slow, random, involuntary movements.

The brain damage causing athetoid cerebral palsy can occur in many ways. Brain damage causing cerebral palsy in general is usually the result of a lack of oxygen reaching the brain during fetal development. Other ways brain damage can occur include: Poor pre-natal care, alcohol or drug abuse while pregnant, head trauma, viral infection during pregnancy or bleeding in the brain.

Studies have shown athetoid cerebral palsy has a higher than normal association with brain damage potentially caused by jaundice. Brain damage occurs as a result of an increase in the amount of bilirubin in the blood of an infant. When the increase of bilirubin builds to high concentrations it results in jaundice. Eventually it may cause a specific kind of brain damage called kernicterus, which also produces hearing loss. Bilirubin may increase in the infant from the effect of certain medications, infections and Rh factor blood incompatibility between the mother and baby.


Characteristics of Athetoid-Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy

The main characteristic of athetoid / dyskinetic cerebral palsy is uncontrolled, slow, writhing movement of the limbs. Sometimes the muscles of the face, tongue and throat are affected, causing grimacing or drooling. Patients may also have dysarthria, a problem coordinating the muscle movements needed for speech. Uncontrolled movements often increase during periods of emotional stress and are not present while sleeping. Athetoid cerebral palsy sufferers often have a hard time maintaining posture which makes sitting or standing difficult. Additionally, people with dyskinetic cerebral palsy can have a hard time moving their hands to a certain spot or holding on to objects.


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