Asterixis is a tremor of the hand when the wrist is extended , sometimes said to resemble a bird flapping its wings. This motor disorder is characterized by an inability to maintain a position, which is demonstrated by jerking movements of the outstretched hands when bent upward at the wrist. The tremor is caused by abnormal function of the diencephalic motor centers in the brain, which regulate the muscles involved in maintaining position. Asterixis is associated with various encephalopathies due especially to faulty metabolism. Asterixis is the inability to maintain posture due to a metabolic encephalopathy.
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Asterixis is a neurological disorder that causes a person to lose motor control of certain areas of the body. Muscles — often in the wrists and fingers, although it can happen in other areas of the body — can abruptly and intermittently become lax.
This loss of muscle control is also accompanied by irregular and involuntary jerking movements. Asterixis on both sides of the body is far more common than unilateral one-sided asterixis. The condition was first recognized nearly 80 years ago, but a lot still remains unknown about it.
The disorder is thought to be caused by a malfunction in the part of the brain that controls muscle movement and posture. Researchers suspect there may be certain triggers, which include encephalopathies. A stroke occurs when blood flow to a part of the brain is restricted. This can happen because of a blood clot blocking an artery or because of a narrowing of the arteries due to things like smoking or high blood pressure.
Liver diseases that put you at high risk of asterixis include cirrhosis or hepatitis. Both these conditions can cause scarring of the liver. This makes it less efficient at filtering out toxins. According to research, up to 45 percent of people with cirrhosis have hepatic liver encephalopathy, which puts them at greater risk for asterixis.
Like the liver, the kidneys also remove toxic materials from the blood. If too many of these toxins are allowed to build up, they can alter brain function and lead to asterixis.
If left untreated and allowed to build up, copper can damage the brain. This is a rare, genetic disorder. Symptoms of toxic copper levels include:. Both epilepsy and heart failure are also risk factors for asterixis. A diagnosis of asterixis is often based on both a physical exam and lab tests. Your doctor may ask you to hold your arms out, flex your wrists, and spread your fingers. Your doctor may also push against the wrists to prompt the response.
Your doctor may also order blood tests that look for buildups of chemicals or minerals in the blood. Imaging tests, such as CT scans , can examine brain function and visualize areas that may be affected. When the underlying condition causing asterixis is treated, asterixis generally improves and even goes away entirely. Your doctor will likely advise dietary changes, taking drugs that will bind to the mineral to help remove it from the body, or both. It will depend on which mineral is overabundant in your bloodstream.
Getting any underlying heart conditions under control is the first step. That may mean one or a combination of the following:. Your doctor may also prescribe ACE inhibitors , which widen arteries, and beta-blockers , which slow the heartbeat.
Your doctor may prescribe drugs such as zinc acetate, which prevents the body from absorbing copper in the food you eat.
They may also prescribe chelating agents like penicillamine. It can help excrete copper out of tissues. In many cases, when the condition causing asterixis is successfully treated, asterixis improves or even disappears.
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What Causes Asterixis, and How Is It Treated?