Medical diseases of infancy and childhood (1900) (14580019148).jpg
Bilateral athetosis

Athetosis is a symptom characterized by slow, involuntary, convoluted, writhing movements of the fingers, hands, toes, and feet and in some cases, arms, legs, neck and tongue.[1] Movements typical of athetosis are sometimes called athetoid movements. Lesions to the brain are most often the direct cause of the symptoms, particularly to the corpus striatum.[2] This symptom does not occur alone and is often accompanied by the symptoms of cerebral palsy, as it is often a result of this physical disability. Treatments for athetosis are not very effective, and in most cases are simply aimed at managing the uncontrollable movement, rather than the cause itself.

Signs and symptoms

Athetosis can vary from mild to severe motor dysfunction; it is generally characterized by unbalanced, involuntary movements of muscle and a difficulty maintaining a symmetrical posture. The associated motor dysfunction can be restricted to a part of the body or present throughout the body, depending on the individual and the severity of the symptom. One of the pronounced signs can be observed in the extremities in particular, as the writhing, convoluted movement of the digits.[1] Athetosis can appear as early as 18 months from birth with first signs including difficulty feeding, hypotonia, spasm, and involuntary writhing movements of the hands, feet, and face, which progressively worsen through adolescence and at times of emotional distress.[3] Athetosis is caused by lesions in several brain areas such as the hippocampus and the motor thalamus, as well as the corpus striatum;[2] therefore children during the developmental age could possibly suffer from severe communication deficits such as speech impairment, hearing loss, and failed or delayed acquirement of sitting balance, although most people with athetosis have normal or near-normal intelligence.[3]


Athetosis is a symptom primarily caused by the marbling, or degeneration of the basal ganglia. This degeneration is most commonly caused by complications at birth or by Huntington's disease, in addition to rare cases in which the damage may also arise later in life due to stroke or trauma. The two complications of particular interest are intranatal asphyxia and neonatal jaundice.


Asphyxia directly causes basal ganglia damage due to lack of oxygen and therefore, insufficient nutrient supply. The lesions caused by asphyxia are most prominent on the caudate nucleus and the putamen.[4] However, a less-studied consequence of the resulting hypoxia is its effect on the concentrations of the neurotransmitter dopamine within the synapses of neurons in the basal ganglia. Hypoxia leads to an increase in the extracellular dopamine levels and therefore, an increase in the activity of the dopaminergic neurons. Furthermore, this increase in extracellular concentration is not caused by an increase in the neurotransmitter synthesis, but instead on inhibiting its reuptake back into the neurons and glial cells.[5] Therefore, there is an increased dopaminergic effect as dopamine remains in the synapse at higher concentrations leading to additional post-synaptic response. As a result, the uncontrollable writhing motions witnessed with athetosis deal with the over-activity of synapses within the basal ganglia.

Neonatal jaundice

Neonatal jaundice is the other chief complication that leads to the basal ganglia damage associated with this condition. Jaundice is caused by hyperbilirubinemia, or abnormally high levels of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is usually bound to albumin immediately and sent to the liver. However, in neonatal jaundice, the concentration of bilirubin overwhelms that of albumin and some of the bilirubin remains unconjugated and can enter the brain through the blood–brain barrier.[6] Normally bilirubin would not be able to diffuse across the blood–brain barrier, but in infants, the barrier is immature and has higher permeability. Bilirubin is toxic as it prevents the phosphorylation of many proteins, including synapsin I which binds vesicles in the presynaptic terminal.[7] Therefore, it directly inhibits the exocytosis of neurotransmitters and severely hinders the synapses it affects. In autopsies of children who suffered from neonatal jaundice, chronic changes of neuronal loss, gliosis and demyelination were observed in the basal ganglia and more specifically within the globus pallidus.[6]

Thalamic stroke

Another study was done where the onset of athetoid movement followed a thalamic stroke. The thalamus is part of a pathway that is involved with the cortical feedback loop in which signals from the cortex are relayed through the striatum, pallidus and thalamus before making it back to the cortex.[8] The striatum receives excitatory inputs from the cortex and inhibits the pallidum. By doing so it frees the thalamus from pallidal inhibition allowing the thalamus to send excitatory outputs to the cortex. Therefore, the lesions to the thalamus or any other part of this feedback loop can result in movement disorders as they can alter the reactivity of one towards the other.[8] Also, in a case of people with thalamic stroke, a majority suffered severe sensory deficits and ataxia. It is proposed that this loss of proprioception and the ensuing loss of synergic stabilization may also lead to abnormal movements, such as those dealt with in athetosis.[8]

Fahr's syndrome


There are several different treatment approaches to dealing with athetosis. The most common methods are the use of drugs, surgical intervention, and retraining movements of the afflicted person. It is suggested that training a person to relearn movements can be helpful in select situations. Though, generally, this type of treatment will not work, in certain cases it can be found to be very helpful in treating the symptom of athetosis.[9]

Drugs can also be used in the treatment of athetosis, however their collective effectiveness is not very convincing.[10] There is not a single drug that is a standard among treatment. Many different medicines can be used, including:

Most instances of drug use where the symptoms seem to be lessened tend to be in more mild cases of athetosis.[10]

Treatment by surgical intervention can obviously have the most immediate impact, again however, it is not a cure-all. In patients that have cerebral palsy as the cause of their athetosis, it has been demonstrated that a subthalamotomy tends to help relieve the extent of athetosis in approximately half of patients. Additionally, late 19th and early 20th century surgical accounts state that athetosis can be relieved by the removal of a part of the cerebral motor cortex or by cutting a part of the posterior spinal roots.[12] Patients who undergo surgical treatment to relieve the athetosis often see significant improvement in the control of their limbs and digits.[9] While surgery is often very beneficial in the short term and can produce near immediate results, in the long term it has been seen that its effects are not incredibly long lasting.[4]

Related disorders


Chorea is another condition which results from damage to the basal ganglia. Similar to athetosis, it results from mutations affecting the pallidum inhibition of the thalamus as well as increased dopaminergic activity at the level of the striatum.[13] Considering the etiology of both disorders are fairly similar, it comes as no surprise that chorea and athetosis can and usually do occur together in a condition called choreoathetosis.

Cerebral palsy

Athetosis is a commonly occurring symptom in the disease cerebral palsy.[14] Of all people with the disease, between 16%[15] and 25%[4] of them actually exhibit the symptom of athetosis. A component of this is the finding that most often the symptoms that involve athetosis occur as a part of choreoathetosis as opposed to athetosis alone.[16]

It is also noteworthy that the presence of athetosis in cerebral palsy (as well as other conditions) causes a significant increase in a person's basal resting metabolic rate. It has been observed that those who have cerebral palsy with athetosis require approximately 500 more Calories per day than their non-cerebral palsy non-athetoid counterpart.[15]


Pseudoathetosis is a movement disorder, very similar to athetosis, in which the symptoms are not differentiable from those of actual athetosis, however the underlying cause is different. While actual athetosis is caused by damage to the brain, specifically in the basal ganglia,[4] pseudoathetosis is caused by the loss of proprioception.[17] The loss in proprioception is caused by damage to the area between the primary somatosensory cortex and the muscle spindles and joint receptors. Additionally, when observing an MRI, it can be seen that in the brain of a pseudoathetoid patient, lesions on the brain are not seen in the basal ganglia,[18] the area that is oftentimes the cause of athetosis.[4]

Social implications

Athetosis is characterized as a symptom that is present in many forms of central nervous system disorders that affect the body movement coordination, such as cerebral palsy. Children may struggle to engage in social communication, since the poor coordination of the tongue and mouth muscles can reduce their speech ability and hinder their social interaction to a greater degree.[19] The caregivers of the affected children are encouraged to closely monitor their nutrition and growth and to provide them with hearing aids in order to relieve their symptoms as well as support their academic plans.[20] A growing number of patients is shown to benefit from communication devices such as shorthand typing programs and computer speech devices, as well as simple picture boards.[19]

Patients living with the disorder into their adulthood often have trouble being involved in daily activities such as eating, walking, dressing, as well as performing everyday tasks. They are consistently faced with challenges that limit their ability to live on their own. They are more reluctant to be involved in social activities and romantic relationships and more likely to develop poor self-esteem and self-image related to their physical limitations as well as cognitive disabilities, though such habitual thinking is shown to decline when they feel they are accepted and supported by their peers.[21] Patients are also inclined to associate themselves with people who tend not to be engaged in physical activities, according to the September 2008 issue of “Journal of Physical Activity and Health.”[22]


The first noted case of athetosis was discovered by W. A. Hammond and described in his book Diseases of the Nervous System in 1871.[9] Hammond was also the person who created the term "athetosis", Greek for "without position".[23] In his initial description of athetosis, the extent of the uncontrolled movement was limited to the fingers and toes. In association with this, he noted that the patients' calves and forearms were oftentimes flexed and that movements were generally slow. Over the period of time leading into the late 20th century, the definition of athetosis was expanded to include movements of the neck, tongue, face, and even the trunk. Along with the expansion of the symptoms came the recognition that it was a part of many medical conditions, including cerebral palsy and stroke.[23]

Research directions

As athetosis is relatively difficult to treat, efforts are being made to help those with the condition live and perform tasks more effectively and more efficiently. One such example of work that has been recently undertaken is a project to help those affected with athetosis to use a computer with more ease. Software for the control of the computer uses joysticks that perform linear filtering to aid in control.[24]

An additional possible treatment option for those afflicted with the symptom is neurostimulation. Studies have begun, and in cerebral palsy patients affected with dystonia-choreoathetosis, it has been demonstrated that neurostimulation has been an effective treatment in lessening symptoms in patients. There has not been a tremendous amount of experimentation, though, in this as a possible treatment option.[25]

See also


  1. ^ a b Walker, Kenneth H (1990). "Ch. 70 Involuntary Movements". Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory (3rd ed.). PMID 21250235.
  2. ^ a b "Athetosis". Health Database - Medical Ailments & Diseases. Retrieved March 22, 2011.
  3. ^ a b McNeil, Malcolm R. (2009). Clinical Management of Sensorimotor Speech Disorders. Thieme. ISBN 978-1-58890-514-7.
  4. ^ a b c d e Foley J (April 1983). "The athetoid syndrome. A review of a personal series". J. Neurol. Neurosurg. Psychiatry. 46 (4): 289–98. doi:10.1136/jnnp.46.4.289. PMC 1027350. PMID 6341510.
  5. ^ Akiyama Y, Koshimura K, Ohue T, Lee K, Miwa S, Yamagata, S (September 1991). "Effects of hypoxia on the activity of the dopaminergic neuron system in the rat striatum as studied by in vivo brain microdialysis". Journal of Neurochemistry. 57 (3): 997–1002. doi:10.1111/j.1471-4159.1991.tb08249.x. PMID 1861163. S2CID 42453096.
  6. ^ a b Martich-Kriss, V; Kollias, SS; Ball WS, Jr (April 1995). "MR findings in kernicterus". American Journal of Neuroradiology. 16 (4 Suppl): 819–21. PMC 8332263. PMID 7611048.
  7. ^ Hansen, TW (December 2001). "Bilirubin brain toxicity". Journal of Perinatology. 21 Suppl 1: S48–51, discussion S59–62. doi:10.1038/ PMID 11803417.
  8. ^ a b c Handley, A; Medcalf, P; Hellier, K; Dutta, D (May 2009). "Movement disorders after stroke". Age and Ageing. 38 (3): 260–6. doi:10.1093/ageing/afp020. PMID 19276093.
  9. ^ a b c d Putnam T (May 1939). "Athetosis". Yale J. Biol. Med. 11 (5): 459–465. PMC 2602263. PMID 21433835.
  10. ^ a b Mawdsley C (December 1975). "Diseases of the central nervous system. Involuntary movements". Br. Med. J. 4 (5996): 572–4. doi:10.1136/bmj.4.5996.572. PMC 1675885. PMID 1203674.
  11. ^ Polzin, Scott J., MS, and Teresa G. Odle. "Cerebral palsy." Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Thomson Gale, 2006. NA. Health Reference Center Academic. Gale.
  12. ^ Laitinen LV (August 1970). "Neurosurgery in cerebral palsy". J. Neurol. Neurosurg. Psychiatry. 33 (4): 513–8. doi:10.1136/jnnp.33.4.513. PMC 493511. PMID 4918461.
  13. ^ Bhidayasiri, R; Truong, DD (September 2004). "Chorea and related disorders". Postgraduate Medical Journal. 80 (947): 527–34. doi:10.1136/pgmj.2004.019356. PMC 1743104. PMID 15356354.
  14. ^ Rodriguez SP, Ding D, Riviere SP (September 2010). "Algorithms for target prediction for computer users with athetosis". 2010 Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology. Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. Annual International Conference. Vol. 2010. pp. 491–494. doi:10.1109/iembs.2010.5627118. ISBN 978-1-4244-4123-5. PMC 3253859. PMID 21096307.
  15. ^ a b Johnson RK, Goran MI, Ferrara MS, Poehlman ET (February 1996). "Athetosis increases resting metabolic rate in adults with cerebral palsy". J. Am. Diet. Assoc. 96 (2): 145–8. doi:10.1016/S0002-8223(96)00043-0. PMID 8557940.
  16. ^ O'Shea TM (December 2008). "Diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cerebral palsy". Clin. Obstet. Gynecol. 51 (4): 816–28. doi:10.1097/GRF.0b013e3181870ba7. PMC 3051278. PMID 18981805.
  17. ^ Lo YL, See S (November 2010). "Images in clinical medicine. Pseudoathetosis". N. Engl. J. Med. 363 (19): e29. doi:10.1056/NEJMicm0907786. PMID 21047218.
  18. ^ Salih F, Zimmer C, Meierkord H (March 2007). "Parietal proprioceptive loss with pseudoathetosis". J. Neurol. 254 (3): 396–7. doi:10.1007/s00415-006-0382-x. PMID 17345036. S2CID 32393176.
  19. ^ a b Jeff Brody (2005). "Social Problems with Cerebral Palsy". Cerebral Palsy Lawyer - Birth Injury Attorney. Cerebral Palsy Source. Retrieved March 21, 2011.
  20. ^ T. Michael O’Shea (December 2009). "Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention of Cerebral Palsy in Near-Term/Term Infants". Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology. 51 (4): 816–28. doi:10.1097/GRF.0b013e3181870ba7. PMC 3051278. PMID 18981805.
  21. ^ Lehrman, Mary (10 May 2010). "The Social, Emotional, & Psychological Effects Of Adults With Cerebral Palsy". Demand Media, Inc. Retrieved March 22, 2011.
  22. ^ Gaskin, Cadeyrn; Morris, Tony (September 2008). "Physical Activity, Health-Related Quality of Life, and Psychosocial Functioning of Adults With Cerebral Palsy". Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 5 (1): 146–157. doi:10.1123/jpah.5.1.146. PMID 18209260.
  23. ^ a b Morris JG, Jankelowitz SK, Fung VS, Clouston PD, Hayes MW, Grattan-Smith P (November 2002). "Athetosis I: historical considerations". Mov. Disord. 17 (6): 1278–80. doi:10.1002/mds.10267. PMID 12465068. S2CID 13359301.
  24. ^ Lopez JV, Sibenaller S, Ding D, Riviere CN (2007). "Toward filtering of athetoid movement with neural networks". Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. 29th Annual International Conference of the IEEE. doi:10.1109/iembs.2007.4352569.
  25. ^ Vidailhet M, Yelnik J, Lagrange C, et al. (August 2009). "Bilateral pallidal deep brain stimulation for the treatment of patients with dystonia-choreoathetosis cerebral palsy: a prospective pilot study". Lancet Neurol. 8 (8): 709–17. doi:10.1016/S1474-4422(09)70151-6. PMID 19576854. S2CID 24345609.

External links

Media files used on this page

Medical diseases of infancy and childhood (1900) (14580019148).jpg
Author/Creator: Internet Archive Book Images, Licence: No restrictions

Identifier: medicaldiseaseso00will (find matches)
Title: Medical diseases of infancy and childhood
Year: 1900 (1900s)
Authors: Williams, Dawson, 1854- (from old catalog) Churchill, Frank Spooner, 1864- (from old catalog) ed
Subjects: Children
Publisher: Philadelphia and New York, Lea brothers & co.
Contributing Library: The Library of Congress
Digitizing Sponsor: The Library of Congress

View Book Page: Book Viewer
About This Book: Catalog Entry
View All Images: All Images From Book
Click here to view book online to see this illustration in context in a browseable online version of this book.

Text Appearing Before Image:
he limbs, andby massage. Tenotomy may be necessary to obtain the full advan-tage of this treatment. In some cases, the aspect of the child, whichsuggests complete imbecility, may be, to some extent, misleading, anda good deal of knowledge may be imparted by a painstaking in-structor. HEREDITARY ATAXY 48 Hereditary ataxy (Friedreichs Disease) is a form of ataxy whichcomes on in childhood or early life, and i< due to degeneration of theposterior colnmns of the spinal cord. It is a family disease, /. c, a disease which attacks commonly sev-eral members of the same generation, brothers and sisters of onefamily, althongh isolated cases may be met with. The first symptomscome on usually at the same age in each member of the family at-tacked. At or shortly before puberty is the most conunon period forthe onset, which appears sometimes to be determined by an attack ofmeasles or scarlet fever or some other acute infectious disease, butbeyond this nothing can be said as to etiology. Fig. 70.
Text Appearing After Image:
Bilateral athetosis (congenital). lUSSOLOXGO.) (After a drawing made by A. Dall Occa Rianca for In cases examined after death the cord has always l)een small andhas shown widespread sclerosis—in the ;X)sterior columns (columnsof Goll in their whole extent, and columns ofBurdach in their upperpart), in the direct cerebellar tract extending laterally into thecolumn of Gowers, in the lateral columns (crossed pyramidal tract),in the grey matter (columns of Clarke, and posterior horns). In somecases dilatation of the central canal has been ob.served. The most characteristic symptoms are those affecting the motorsystem. The patient stands with the feet far apart and has difficultyin maintaining his efiuilil)rium ; the IxKly sways, and the feet areshifted to maintain the upright attitude; the unsteadiness may or 488 HEMIPLEGIA. SPASTIC RIGIDITY. HEREDITARY ATAXY. may not be aggravated by closing the eyes. The gait is reeling, thesteps short and uncertain; on the whole it resembles more the

Note About Images

Please note that these images are extracted from scanned page images that may have been digitally enhanced for readability - coloration and appearance of these illustrations may not perfectly resemble the original work.