Jerky body movement is a condition in which a person makes fast movements that they cannot control and that have no purpose. These movements interrupt the person's normal movement or posture.
The medical name of this condition is chorea.
This condition can affect one or both sides of the body. Typical movements of chorea include:
- Bending and straightening the fingers and toes
- Grimacing in the face
- Raising and lowering the shoulders
These movements do not usually repeat. They can look like they are being done on purpose. But the movements are not under the person's control. A person with chorea may look jittery or restless.
Chorea can be a painful condition, making it hard to do daily living activities.
There are many possible causes of unpredictable, jerky movements, including:
- Antiphospholipid syndrome (disorder that involves abnormal blood clotting)
- Benign hereditary chorea (a rare inherited condition)
- Disorders of calcium, glucose, or sodium metabolism
- Huntington disease (disorder that involves breakdown of nerve cells in the brain)
- Medicines (such as levodopa, antidepressants, anticonvulsants)
- Polycythemia rubra vera (bone marrow disease)
- Sydenham chorea (movement disorder that occurs after infection with certain bacteria called group A streptococcus)
- Wilson disease (disorder that involves too much copper in the body)
- Pregnancy (chorea gravidarum)
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (disease in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue)
- Tardive dyskinesia (a condition that can be caused by medicines such as antipsychotic drugs)
- Thyroid disease
- Other rare disorders
Treatment is aimed at the cause of the movements.
- If the movements are due to a medicine, the medicine should be stopped, if possible.
- If the movements are due to a disease, the disorder should be treated.
- For people with Huntington disease, if the movements are severe and affect the person's life, medicines such as tetrabenazine may help control them.
Excitement and fatigue can make chorea worse. Rest helps improve chorea. Try to reduce emotional stress.
Safety measures should also be taken to prevent injury from the involuntary movements.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you have unexplained body motions that are unpredictable and do not go away.
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
The provider will perform a physical exam. This may include a detailed examination of the nervous and muscle systems.
You'll be asked about your medical history and symptoms, including:
- What kind of movement occurs?
- What part of the body is affected?
- What other symptoms are there?
- Is there irritability?
- Is there weakness or paralysis?
- Is there restlessness?
- Are there emotional problems?
- Are there facial tics?
Tests that may be ordered include:
- Blood tests such as metabolic panel, complete blood count (CBC), blood differential
- Blood tests for heavy metals, ceruloplasmin, and copper
- CT scan of the head or affected area
- EEG (in rare cases)
- EMG and nerve conduction velocity (in rare cases)
- Genetic studies to help diagnose certain diseases, such as Huntington disease
- Lumbar puncture
- MRI of the head or affected area
Treatment is based on the type of chorea the person has. If medicines are used, the provider will decide which medicine to prescribe based on the person's symptoms and test results.
Chorea; Muscle - jerky movements (uncontrolled); Hyperkinetic movements
Jankovic J, Lang AE. Diagnosis and assessment of Parkinson disease and other movement disorders. In: Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, Newman NJ, eds. Bradley and Daroff's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 24.
Okun MS, Lang AE. Other movement disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 382.
Review Date 1/28/2021
Updated by: Evelyn O. Berman, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics at University of Rochester, Rochester, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.