Sometimes called dyskinetic cerebral palsy, athetoid cerebral palsy causes involuntary movements and problems with voluntary movements. People who suffer from this condition usually cannot control their muscle tone. They may alternate between phases of abnormally high and abnormally low muscle tone. In addition, children with athetoid cerebral palsy may experience problems with walking and grasping objects.
Hypertonia and Hypotonia
Abnormally high muscle tone is known as hypertonia, while abnormally low muscle tone is known as hypotonia.
Athetoid cerebral palsy may arise from harm to the basal ganglia or the cerebellum, which are two areas of the brain. Part of the cerebral cortex, the basal ganglia control voluntary movement, and they can affect learning ability. The cerebellum controls complex motor functions, such as balance and coordination, and it can affect communication skills. Thus, both the basal ganglia and the cerebellum play a role in motor and cognitive functions. Causes of damage to either or both areas include a disruption in the oxygen flow to a child’s brain, as well as various types of brain trauma during childbirth. Sometimes athetoid cerebral palsy arises from infections as well.
Symptoms of Athetoid Cerebral Palsy
Children suffering from a hypertonic phase of athetoid cerebral palsy usually experience stiffness and tension in their muscles. By contrast, children in a hypotonic phase usually experience floppiness in their muscles and may struggle to sit up. Children may fluctuate between stiffness and floppiness regularly. They also may suffer from tremors, abrupt movements, a tendency to twist their upper body, posture problems, issues with balance, or facial symptoms like grimacing or drooling.
Athetoid cerebral palsy often is not diagnosed for months or even years after birth. In some cases, though, a health care provider may suspect this condition when a child struggles to raise their head or smile during their first few months. Other early signs may include unnatural stiffness or limpness, as well as problems in rolling over, kicking legs, or reaching for objects.
Treatment for Athetoid Cerebral Palsy
Since there is no cure for athetoid cerebral palsy, treatment usually involves managing symptoms. A combination of therapy and medications often can help a child live a relatively fulfilling life. Therapy may consist of physical, occupational, or speech therapy:
Physical therapy: This type of therapy usually addresses low muscle tone by improving strength and mobility. Children with athetoid cerebral palsy also may use physical therapy to address sensory perception problems that impede their movement.
Occupational therapy: Children may improve their mobility, learning capacity, and ability to handle daily tasks through this type of therapy. This may help them write or hold objects, among other things. By improving their ability to perform ordinary tasks, children may interact with other people more confidently.
Speech therapy: This type of therapy can alleviate issues with facial and tongue muscles, allowing a child to speak and eat more easily. Children who have breathing problems related to athetoid cerebral palsy also may benefit from speech therapy. A child may use these exercises to improve their language skills as well.
In relatively unusual cases, a doctor may advise surgery for a child. This may address joint problems caused by the hypertonic phases of athetoid cerebral palsy.
ADHD and Secondary Conditions
Many children with athetoid cerebral palsy develop attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A health care provider often will prescribe medications for this condition and other conditions that arise from the brain damage that caused the athetoid cerebral palsy, such as seizures and gastrointestinal problems.
Legal Claims Based on Athetoid Cerebral Palsy
Athetoid cerebral palsy can be life-changing for a child and their parents. Since the condition has no cure, a child may need therapies and medications indefinitely. Many cerebral palsy cases arise from improper actions by a health care provider. Parents with a child who suffers from athetoid cerebral palsy thus should consider bringing a birth injury claim based on medical malpractice.
Proving liability for birth injuries involves showing that a defendant health care provider failed to meet the professional standard of care that applied to this situation. Expert testimony is almost always essential to establishing a departure from the professional standard of care. Sometimes more than one health care provider shared fault, and sometimes entities such as hospitals may be sued in addition to individuals. Therefore, cerebral palsy cases should be investigated carefully with the assistance of a birth injury attorney. They can retain persuasive experts, adhere to the complex procedural rules in this area, and bring all the appropriate parties into the litigation.