Athetosis: Definition, Causes, Signs, Symptoms, Treatment, Precautions, Support and Care

The goal of treating this disease is to relieve uncontrollable movements.

Athetosis is a condition in which the patient experiences slow, convulsive, involuntary movements and twisting of the hands, fingers, feet, and toes.

In some patients with athetosis, these movements can also occur in the arms, neck, legs, and tongue. The movements that occur in athetosis are also known as athetoid movements .

The common cause of athetosis is injury or damage to the brain , especially the striatum, of which athetosis is the symptom.

Athetosis can also occur as a result of cerebral palsy, which is why it is commonly accompanied by symptoms of cerebral palsy.

The patient may also have choreoathetosis along with athetosis due to damage to the basal ganglia. Apart from choreoathetosis, the patient may also have another movement disorder, pseudoathetosis, which is also a movement disorder caused by proprioception.

Causes of athetosis

There are multiple causes for the development of athetosis and there are many different factors that accompany this condition.

It is important to seek immediate medical attention so that an early and correct diagnosis of athetosis can be made and a treatment plan can be developed.

Some of the causes of athetosis are:

  • Tumor cerebral.
  • Damage or injury to the basal ganglia.
  • Cerebral stroke.
  • Hepatic encephalopathy.
  • Wilson’s disease.
  • Huntington’s disease.
  • Cerebral palsy.

Athetosis can also occur as a side effect of antipsychotic medications such as phenothiazine.

Diseases such as kernicterus, Tay-Sachs disease, Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, phenylketonuria, tardive dyskinesia, Segawa syndrome, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease can lead to the development of athetosis.

Signs and symptoms of athetosis

Athetosis varies in severity. The patient suffering from athetosis experiences slow and involuntary movements of parts of the body such as the hands, feet, face, tongue, neck and muscles of the body.

The patient also has facial spasms. The athetosis patient cannot stand. It is also difficult for the patient suffering from athetosis to speak adequately. There is excessive production of saliva.

The movements of athetosis consist of slow, involuntary and unbalanced movements of the muscle and the patient has difficulty maintaining a symmetrical posture.

Depending on the patient and the severity of athetosis symptoms, these movements may be limited to just one part of the body or they may be present throughout the body.

The movements are more pronounced in the extremities with contoured and twisted movements of the digits. Babies can show signs of athetosis by 18 months of age.

The initial symptoms are:

  • Difficulty feeding.
  • Spasms
  • Hypotonia
  • Involuntary movements – twisting of the face, hands and feet, which continue to worsen during the adolescent period and during stress.

The cause of athetosis is lesions in various areas of the brain, such as the motor thalamus, the hippocampus, and the striatum; hearing loss, speech impairment, and loss of balance when sitting.

Treatment for athetosis

Treatment for athetosis consists of different approaches, including medications, surgery, and retraining of the patient’s movements. Retraining and relearning movements are beneficial in some patients.

It is very important to diagnose and treat athetosis as soon as possible to prevent the condition from getting worse.


There is no single specific drug for the treatment of athetosis and different types of drugs are used, such as:

  • Artane.
  • Cure.
  • Cogentin.
  • Tiopropazato.
  • Tetrabenazina.
  • Haloperidol.
  • Diazepam.

Medications can provide benefit and relieve symptoms in mild cases of athetosis.


Surgical treatment is the most effective treatment for athetosis; However, it does not cure this condition completely. If the cause of athetosis is cerebral palsy, subthalamotomy helps reduce the severity of athetosis in about 50% of patients.

Considerable improvement is seen in surgically treated patients in control of the fingers and limbs.

However, the results of the surgery are good for a short period of time and give immediate results, but the surgery does not have long-lasting effects in the treatment of athetosis.

Athetosis precautions

Even if there is no adequate cure for athetosis, it is important to seek treatment to facilitate the uncontrollable movements of this disorder, as they can cause harm to the patient, such as falling, stinging the eyes, and causing these types of accidents due to the patient’s disability. to move.

Sharp objects should not be given to patients suffering from athetosis and patients should not be left unattended as there is a high risk of accidents, especially if the patient is stressed or violent.

Support and care of patients with athetosis

It is very painful for family members of the patient to see their loved ones suffering from this disorder, as patients with athetosis are often in a wheelchair and need a constant companion to take care of themselves.

Patients suffering from athetosis are unable to do anything on their own and need help with simple life activities such as standing, walking, eating, bathing, etc.

Patients suffering from athetosis need special attention, care, patience, understanding and love, as this disorder more or less stays for life and after a point it is no longer treatable.

Therefore, members of the patient’s family must be considerate and aware that the patient has to carry this burden for the rest of his life. The most effective treatment for patients suffering from athetosis is love.