According to the Medical Dictionary, athetosis is defined as the constant succession of slow, writhing, involuntary movements of pronation, flexion, supination, and extension of fingers and hands, and in particular instances, the feet and toes. The primary symptoms associated with athetosis would be those akin and familiar with cerebral palsy.
Investigating Symptoms and Causes
In the past, many people who were diagnosed with athetosis did not have the condition. According to a report by the Neurosurgery Department at the University of Pittsburg, a significant amount of people initially diagnosed with athetosis is actually considered to have dystonia. Dystonia is the second most common movement disorder in humans. This movement disorder is characterized by involuntary muscle contractions that are sustained in nature. These contractions result in contorted and twisting movements. They can also produce abnormalities in posture as well.
The Neurosurgery Department at the University of Pittsburg also asserts that athetosis occurs in only five percent of people diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Although dystonia has been mistakenly diagnosed as athetosis, the two conditions have some distinctions. Athetosis is a condition that primarily impacts the muscles of the hands, fingers and the mouth area. The involuntary movements that are caused by this disease are slow, writhing and twisting motions. These motions are more continuous than the changes associated with dystonia.
Symptoms of athetosis can appear as early as 18-month-of-age. The early-stage symptoms will include spasms, hypotonia, difficulty in feeding, as well as writhing movements of the face and fingers. As the patient ages, the symptoms will typically become worse. This can be exacerbated by high levels of emotional stress.
Because athetosis occurs during the developmental years, it can negatively impact cognitive functions, such as balance, hearing, and speech.
As far as the cause for athetosis, these involuntary movements are simply the symptoms associated with damage caused by lesions on the brain. It is this damage that inhibits the release of the chemical GABA, which causes the muscles in the body to become relaxed. The absence of this chemical causes the muscles to tighten and contract. The damage that is considered the cause may occur anywhere along the pathway from the brain to the brain stem, and even the spinal cord.
A significant amount of cerebral palsy occurrences is traceable back to the date of delivery, and the failure of medical personnel to take certain precautionary actions.
The treatment options for athetosis is usually determined by a team of experts. One of the primary factors that will determine the direction this team will take will be the goals for the patient and their family. The goals will have an immense impact on the type of treatment that will be recommended.
The team is not responsible for only prescribing the type of treatment the patient will receive, but they will want to ensure that the family understands the reason for any particular form of treatment recommended, including what their expectations should be.
Some forms of treatment for athetosis are not without controversy; however, these controversial issues are dissipating. According to the National Institute of Health, initial treatments for this condition included a significant amount of pharmaceutical agents; however, there was little pragmatic or empirical evidence that the pharmaceutical agents being prescribed served to address the source and causation. These agents were primarily used to minimize the symptomatic manifestations associated with the cause.
Although there is still quite a way to go as far as developing treatments to engage the cause, the modern treatments that are available are less centered on the use of pharmaceutical agents and more on improving function.