What Is Choreoathetosis?

Medically Reviewed by Christopher Melinosky, MD on March 07, 2024
3 min read

Choreoathetosis is a movement disorder that is usually a symptom of another underlying cause. It causes involuntary movements throughout the body. Choreoathetosis combines the symptoms of two other conditions: chorea and athetosis. Someone can experience chorea or athetosis separately or at the same time. 

The main difference between chorea and athetosis is in the movements that they create and the areas of the body they affect. Chorea is usually seen in the hands, face, and feet. Chorea seemingly moves from one part of the body to the next, which can make it hard to diagnose.   

Athetosis is usually only found in the hands or feet. It's easier to spot because its effect is more continuous. The movements it forces are slow. Some doctors say that athetosis is a type of chorea. 

Together, chorea and athetosis produce writhing movements that aren’t as slow as athetosis but aren’t as fast as chorea. 

Choreoathetosis is really a symptom of another issue. All the causes of choreoathetosis overstimulate an area of the brain called the basal ganglia. Similar to the way that someone might vomit for a variety of reasons, choreoathetosis is a response to stress or trauma on the body. 

Choreoathetosis can be caused by any of these conditions: 

If you have consistent, uncontrollable, uncomfortable, and debilitating movements, that could be a sign that you have choreoathetosis. It’s important to note that choreoathetosis is continual. 

Often, people describe the movements of choreoathetosis as “dance-like” or “fidgety.” It can seem like you are playing the piano or are in pain.

You could have: 

Issues with your grip. You could be trying to grip onto something while your fingers involuntarily open and close over and over. 

Hard time controlling your tongue. When you try to stick your tongue out of your mouth, it just slides out of your mouth. 

You could also have:

If an underlying condition causes your choreoathetosis, your doctor will prescribe a medication for that. If your choreoathetosis is caused by a medication you're taking, your doctor will either switch your dose or change your medication.

In some cases, your choreoathetosis is not severe to the degree that it inhibits your daily life. In that case, you might not need to treat it. 

Another treatment that your doctor could recommend is deep brain stimulation. This is for people with severe choreoathetosis who have tried several other treatments. It's a newer treatment and is considered experimental.

Often, the medications used to treat choreoathetosis are very specialized and psychoactive. Be sure to let your doctor know if you have a history of anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues.

Many of the causes of choreoathetosis, such as Huntington’s disease, old age, or lupus, can't be prevented. It's better to think of choreoathetosis prevention as general health upkeep.  

Be sure to get regular medical treatment, especially if you have a severe underlying condition that might affect your brain and body enough to cause choreoathetosis.