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Athetoid Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is used to describe a group of chronic conditions affecting body movement and muscle coordination. This is caused by brain damage occurring either during pregnancy, during delivery, or shortly after delivery. There are several different types of cerebral palsy, classified by the way in which they affect the individual. Athetoid cerebral palsy is one of these types.

Athetoid cerebral palsy is a form of athetonia, which is marked by slow, writhing involuntary muscle movement. A mixed muscle tone where some are too high and others too low also characterize Athetoid cerebral palsy. Damage to the basal ganglia, located in the midbrain, is the cause of athetoid cerebral palsy. Approximately 25 percent of cerebral palsy patients are affected by athetoid cerebral palsy. Athetoid cerebral palsy can also be referred to as dyskenetic cerebral palsy.

The slow, writhing movements associated with athetoid cerebral palsy usually affect the hands, feet, arms, or legs. In some cases, athetoid cerebral palsy can affect the muscles of the face and tongue, causing grimacing and drooling. The involuntary and uncontrollable muscle tone fluctuations sometimes affect the whole body. The movement caused by athetoid cerebral palsy often increases during times of heightened emotional stress. Symptoms usually tend to disappear completely during sleep.

Several difficulties are common with athetoid cerebral palsy. The main cause for these problems is the muscles alternating between floppy and tense. Unwanted movements may be small or big, rapid, irregularly repetitive, random, or jerky. Athetoid cerebral palsy can also cause a person to appear restless and constantly moving, only being still when fully relaxed and sometimes only when asleep.

One difficulty caused by this fluctuation is the inability to hold posture. Children with athetoid cerebral palsy often have trouble holding their body in a steady, upright position for sitting or walking. This can delay, and even prevent the child from having any control over his or her mobility.

People with athetoid cerebral palsy often show a lot of movement in their face. Athetoid cerebral palsy can also affect speech. This condition is known as dysarthia. Speech is affected to a degree in every case of athetoid cerebral palsy because of difficulty controlling the tongue, breathing and vocal chords. Similarly, the person may experience difficulties with eating and drooling.

A person with athetoid cerebral palsy can also have difficulty holding onto an object, like a pencil or eating utensil, because of the mixed tone of muscles. Athetoid cerebral palsy can make a person work and concentrate harder than usual to get their hand to a certain spot, like scratching their nose. This is also concurrent with big, involuntary movements and is found through the entire body rather than being restricted to a certain area. The treatment of athetoid cerebral palsy varies on the concentration of symptoms. It is important for physical therapy to begin soon after diagnosis is made. Daily range of motion exercises will help prevent muscles from growing weak and atrophied or rigidly fixed from contracture. For those suffering from dysarthia, speech therapy can help improve swallowing and communication. A speech therapist also can work with the child to learn to use special communication devices like computers with voice synthesizers.


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