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ATHETOSIS (Gr. ἄθετος, “without place”), the medical term
applied to certain slow, purposeless, deliberate movements of
the hands and feet. The fingers are separately flexed and
extended, abducted and adducted in an entirely irregular way.
The hands as a whole are also moved, and the arms, toes and feet
may be affected. The condition is usually due to some lesion of
the brain which has caused hemiplegia, and is especially common
in childhood. It is occasionally congenital (so called), and is
then due to some injury of the brain during birth. It is more
usually associated with hemiplegia, in which condition there is
first of all complete voluntary immobility of the parts affected:
but later, as there is a return of a certain amount of power over
the limbs affected, the slow rhythmic movements of athetosis
are first noticed. This never develops, however, where there is
no recovery of voluntary power. Its distribution is thus nearly
always hemiplegic, and it is often associated with more or less
mental impairment. The movements may or may not continue
during sleep. They cannot be arrested for more than a moment
by will power, and are aggravated by voluntary movements.
The prognosis is unsatisfactory, as the condition usually continues
unchanged for years, though improvement occasionally
occurs in slight cases, or even complete recovery.
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