Choreoathetosis: Symptoms | Causes | Treatment


What is choreoathetosis?

Choreoathetosis is a movement disorder that causes involuntary twitching or writhing. It’s a serious condition that can affect your posture, walking ability, and everyday movement. More severe cases can cause permanent disability.

Choreoathetosis combines the symptoms of chorea and athetosis. Chorea causes fast, unpredictable muscle contractions like fidgeting, or arm and leg movements. Chorea mostly affects the face, limbs, or trunk of the body. Athetosis causes slow writhing movements, typically of the hands and feet.

Choreoathetosis can affect people of any age or gender. People 15 to 35 years old are most likely to have this disorder.

While some cases of choreoathetosis are short-lived, more severe episodes can remain for years. The condition can occur suddenly or can develop over time.

Symptoms of choreoathetosis

Involuntary bodily movements are normal. But when they become chronic, uncontrolled movements can cause disabilities and discomfort.

Choreoathetosis symptoms are easily recognized, they include:

  • muscle tightness
  • involuntary twitching
  • fixed hand position
  • uncontrollable muscle jerks
  • abnormal movements of the body or specific body parts
  • consistent writhing movements

Choreoathetosis episodes can occur randomly. Some factors can also trigger an episode, like caffeine, alcohol, or stress. Prior to an episode, you may feel your muscles begin to tighten, or other physical symptoms. Attacks can last anywhere from 10 seconds to over an hour.

Choreoathetosis causes

Choreoathetosis is often associated as a symptom of other triggering conditions or disorders. Possible causes include:

  • medication
  • trauma or injury
  • cerebral palsy
  • tumors
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Tourette syndrome
  • Wilson’s disease
  • kernicterus, a type of brain damage in jaundiced newborns
  • chorea

Choreoathetosis treatment

There is no cure for choreoathetosis. Treatment options focus on managing the symptoms of this condition. Treatment also depends on the underlying cause of your case of choreoathetosis.

After a thorough review of your medical history, your doctor may recommend medication to reduce or eliminate choreoathetosis episodes. These drugs are meant to relax your muscles and ease the pain.

Common medication options for choreoathetosis include:

  • carbamazepine, an anticonvulsant to treat nerve pain and prevent seizures
  • phenytoin, an anticonvulsant to treat and prevent seizures
  • muscle relaxants

Surgery, although invasive, can also help to reduce choreoathetosis episodes. Doctors may recommend deep brain stimulation, which places electrodes in the part of the brain that controls muscle movements.

The electrodes are connected to a device that delivers electric pulses and s. While this procedure has been successful, it carries the risk of infection and requires a surgical battery replacement over time.


While there is no cure for choreoathetosis, different treatment options can address symptoms. Make sure you follow the directions on your prescription medication so your symptoms don’t get worse.

Making changes at home can also improve your quality of life. If your choreoathetosis is affecting your daily movement, safeguard your home to prevent injury or further trauma from slips and falls.

Do not self-diagnose. If you begin to experience irregular symptoms, call your doctor right away.

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