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Early Controversies over Athetosis: I. Clinical Features, Differentiation from other Movement Disorders, Associated Conditions, and Pathology

Lanska, Douglas J.

Background: Since the description of athetosis in 1871 by American neurologist William Alexander Hammond (1828-1900) the disorder has been a source of controversy, as were many aspects of Hammond's career. Methods: Primary sources have been used to review controversies in the 50-year period since the initial description of athetosis, in particular those concerning clinical features, differentiation from other movement disorders, associated conditions, and pathology. Controversies concerning treatment will be addressed in a subsequent article. Results: Hammond struggled to establish athetosis as a distinct clinical–pathological entity, and had successfully predicted the striatal pathology in his initial case (albeit somewhat serendipitously). Athetosis was, nevertheless, considered by many neurologists to be a form of post-hemiplegic chorea or part of a continuum between chorea and dystonia. European neurologists, and particularly the French, initially ignored or discounted the concept. Additional controversies arose over whether the movements persisted during sleep, whether athetosis was, or could be, associated with imbecility or insanity, and how it should be treated. Discussion: Some controversies concerning athetosis served to identify areas where knowledge was insufficient to make accurate statements, despite prior self-assured or even dogmatic statements to the contrary. Other controversies illustrated established prejudices, even if these biases were often only apparent with the greater detachment of hindsight.

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Tremor and Other Hyperkinetic Movements

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Center for Parkinson's Disease and Other Movement Disorders
Published Here
September 27, 2013