Definitions

athetosis

athetosis

[ath-i-toh-sis]

Athetosis is a medical condition in which a person is afflicted with slow, involuntary and purposeless movements of relatively large muscle groups that are noticeable and often disturbingly obvious. There are several causes and treatments for athetosis; however, treatment is often ineffective and focused more on alleviating symptoms rather than locating and removing the cause of the condition.

There is really only one symptom of athetosis. It is obvious when a patient is afflicted with the condition because they will be unable to control slow, writhing movements that occur randomly and without purpose. Some of the main areas of the body that are affected by athetosis and display the involuntary movements are: fingers, arms, legs, neck, face, tongue, and feet. The movements cannot be controlled for anything longer than a couple of seconds through sheer will of the afflicted person, and they can occur during sleep in some people. An example of athetosis would be when someone extends and flexes their fingers in an unusual or disturbing manner slowly. Movements like these are individually called athetoid movements. Athetosis is often accompanied by symptoms of cerebral palsy, due to the nature of the similarities in each condition. Athetosis is most commonly caused by damage to the basal ganglia, which is a group of nuclei in the brain that are associated with voluntary motor control, eye movements, routine behaviors/habits, and cognitive/emotional functions. Damage to the basal ganglia often occurs because of birth complications such as asphyxia and neonatal jaundice.

Although athetosis is elusive to most types of treatment and therapy, certain drugs can still be used to alleviate symptoms. The best and most common way to mitigate or even possibly remove symptoms of athetosis is through orthopedic surgery and teaching afflicted people to relearn their movements in order to possibly control them more effectively.

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