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Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy

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What Is Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy (CP) affects muscle movement and control. People with cerebral palsy have it for life. 

Dyskinetic CP (also called athetoid CP) is one type of cerebral palsy. Kids with dyskinetic CP have trouble controlling muscle movement. They have twisting, abrupt movements.

Other types of cerebral palsy can lead to stiff muscles (spastic CP) or problems with balance and walking (ataxic CP). Some kids have more than one kind of CP. And sometimes, the type of CP a child has can change over time.

What Causes Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is thought to be caused by a brain injury or problem. In dyskinetic CP, the injury or problem is in an area of the brain called the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia is responsible for getting messages about movement from the brain to the muscles.

A child might be born with CP or develop it later. The brain injury or problem doesn't get worse, but someone with CP may have different needs over time. 

Cerebral palsy can be caused by:

  • infections during pregnancy
  • stroke either in the womb or after birth
  • untreated jaundice (yellowing of skin or whites of the eyes)
  • genetic disorders
  • medical problems in the mom during pregnancy
  • being shaken as a baby (shaken baby syndrome)
  • injury during delivery
  • injury from an accident (such as a car accident) 

Premature babies (babies born early) are at higher risk for CP than babies born at full-term. So are low-birthweight babies (even if carried to term) and multiple births, such as twins and triplets.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy?

Kids with dyskinetic (diss-kih-NET-ik) cerebral palsy have trouble making their muscles do what they want them to. When they try to get their muscles to move a certain way, other movements happen, such as:

  • dystonia: twisting and repeating movements that can be painful
  • athetosis: slow, writhing movements
  • chorea: irregular, abrupt movements

Kids with all types of CP can have vision, hearing, speech, eating, behavior, and learning problems. Some kids have seizures.

How Is Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?

Most children with dyskinetic cerebral palsy are diagnosed in the first 2 years of life. Health care providers look for signs of CP if a baby is born early or has another health problem that's associated with CP.

No single test can diagnose dyskinetic CP. So health care professionals look at many things, including a child's:

  • development
  • growth
  • reflexes
  • movement
  • muscle tone

Testing may include:

  • brain MRI, CT scan, or ultrasound
  • blood and urine (pee) tests to check for other medical conditions, including genetic conditions
  • electroencephalography (EEG) to look at electrical activity in the brain
  • electromyography (EMG) to check for muscle weakness
  • evaluation of how a child walks and moves
  • speech, hearing, and vision testing

How Is Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy Treated?

There is no cure for cerebral palsy. The health care team works with the child and family to make a treatment plan. The health care team includes a:

  • pediatrician
  • developmental behavioral pediatrician
  • occupational therapist
  • physical therapist
  • speech therapist
  • dietitian
  • neurologist (nervous system doctor)
  • ophthalmologist (eye doctor)
  • orthopedic surgeon (bone doctor)
  • otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor)

The treatment plan may include:

  • physical therapy and occupational therapy
  • leg braces, a walker, and/or a wheelchair
  • medicine for muscle pain, stiffness, or irregular movements
  • special nutrition to help the child grow
  • surgery to improve movement in the legs, ankles, feet, hips, wrists, and arms

Where Can Caregivers Get Help?

Taking care of a child with cerebral palsy can feel overwhelming at times. Not only do kids with CP need a lot of attention at home, they also need to go to many medical appointments and therapies. Don't be afraid to say yes when someone asks, "Can I help?" Your family and friends really do want to be there for you.

To feel less alone and to connect with others who are facing the same challenges, find a local or online support group. You also can get information and support from CP organizations, such as:

Staying strong and healthy is not only good for you, but also for your child and your whole family.

Looking Ahead

Living with cerebral palsy is different for every child. To help your child move and learn as much as possible, work closely with your care team to develop a treatment plan. Then, as your child grows and his or her needs change, adjust the plan as necessary.

These guides can help as you plan for each stage of childhood and early adulthood:

  • Cerebral Palsy Checklist: Babies & Preschoolers (Birth to Age 5)
  • Cerebral Palsy Checklist: Big Kids (Ages 6 to 12)
  • Cerebral Palsy Checklist: Teens & Young Adults (Ages 13 to 21)

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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