What is Choreoathetosis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 14 August 2019
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Choreoathetosis is a movement disorder characterized by involuntary movements that take place at medium speed, most often when people are attempting to move. There are a number of conditions associated with choreoathetosis, ranging from genetic disorders like Lesch-Nyhan syndrome to brain damage caused by drug use. Patients who have this movement disorder usually need to see a neurologist for evaluation and treatment.

People with this movement disorder have a combination of two movement disorders: chorea and athetosis. Chorea is characterized by jerking, rapid movements that flow quickly between muscle groups. The term is derived from the Greek word for “dance,” and in some people it can look like a form of dancing. Athetosis involves writhing, rolling movements that are slower. In people with choreoathetosis, elements of both movement disorders can be observed.

This movement disorder is a symptom, rather than a standalone condition. The presence of choreoathetosis in a patient indicates that the patient has a condition that involves the central nervous system. Determining the cause is important because it may be treatable, and treatments vary widely. A neurologist can perform a physical examination, take a history, conduct medical imaging studies of the brain and spinal cord, and use diagnostic testing like genetic tests to evaluate the patient in order to learn more about what is causing the choreoathetosis.


Some medications can be used to minimize or control the involuntary movements. In patients with paroxysmal choreoathetosis, where there are periodic episodes of disordered movement, these medications can sometimes eliminate incidents altogether. Medications can also be used to treat the underlying cause, such as the buildup of uric acid seen in people with Lesch-Nyhan syndrome. Some patients benefit from physical and occupational therapy to help them improve their muscle control.

When someone develops a movement disorder, it is a sign that the person has a neurological problem. An emergent problem should be treated as quickly as possible. Things like tremors, involuntary movements, jerking movements, muscle weakness, and poor motor control are all indicative of damage or impairment to the brain or nerves. It may be possible to arrest or reverse the damage if it is identified and treated quickly, but if a patient is allowed to go untreated, it can become severe. People with a family history of neurological disorders should make sure that this history is noted in their charts so doctors know to be on the lookout for early warning signs indicative of the development of progressive neurological disease.


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