Approximately one quarter of cerebral palsy patients are affected by athetoid cerebral palsy. Athetoid CP is characterized by slow, involuntary muscle movement and mixed muscle tone where some muscles are too high and others too low. It is caused by damage to the basal ganglia in the midbrain. This form of the disease is also known as dyskenetic cerebral palsy.
The slow, writhing movements seen in athetoid cerebral palsy patients generally affect the hands, arms, feet or legs. Athetoid CP can also affect the muscles of the face and tongue, causing the patient to drool and grimace. The involuntary muscle tone fluctuations can affect the person’s entire body. As in other forms of CP, the uncontrolled movements tend to increase when the person is suffering from emotional stress.
A number difficulties are characteristic of athetoid cerebral palsy which result from the muscles alternating between tense and floppy. A common problem is unwanted movements that can be big or small, random or jerky, rapid, irregularly repetitive. This type of CP can cause a person to appear restless, being still either when fully relaxed or asleep. People suffering from athetoid CP are often unable to maintain posture and are unable to hold their body in an upright position to sit or walk. This can prevent a child from exercising control over their mobility.
One result of the mixed tone of muscles associated with athetoid cerebral palsy is that the person may find it difficult to hold something in their hand like a fork. It can make a person work hard to bring their hand to carry out an otherwise simple act like rubbing their face. This is also manifest with big, involuntary movements and can occur throughout the entire body rather than being limited to one particular area.
Athetoid CP patients often have uncontrolled movement in their face. The condition can also severely affect speech, a condition called dysarthia. This occurs to some degree in every case because of difficulty controlling the tongue, breathing and the vocal chords. Other common symptoms include difficulties eating as well as drooling.
Methods of treatment depend on the symptoms. Physical therapy is of crucial importance and should begin as soon as a diagnosis is confirmed. “Range of motion” exercises should be performed daily. This will help prevent muscles from becoming weak or becoming rigid. For patients suffering from dysarthia, speech therapy can help improve swallowing and communication. Speech therapists can also teach a child to use computers with voice synthesizers.