Is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy (CP) refers to a group of disorders that affect muscle
movement and coordination. In many cases, vision, hearing, and sensation are
also affected. The word “cerebral” means having to do with the brain. The word
“palsy” means weakness or problems with body movement. CP is the most common cause
of motor disabilities in childhood, affecting approximately 2
to 3 out of every 1,000 children.
Abnormal brain development or injury to the developing brain can
cause CP. The damage affects the part of the brain that controls body movement,
coordination, and posture. It may occur before birth, during birth, or shortly
after birth. Most children are born with CP, but they may not show symptoms of
a disorder until months or years later. Symptoms usually appear before a
child reaches age 3 or 4.
The symptoms of CP vary from person-to-person. Some people with
CP may have difficulty walking and sitting. Other people with CP can have trouble
grasping objects. The symptoms can become more severe or less severe over time.
People with CP can have other problems, such as:
- communication difficulties
- learning disabilities
- vision loss
There’s no cure for CP, but early diagnosis and treatment can
greatly improve quality of life.
Are the Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy?
The symptoms of CP range from mild to severe. They also vary depending
on the part of the brain that was affected. Some of the more common symptoms
- delays in reaching motor skill milestones, such
as rolling over, sitting up alone, or crawling
- delays in speech development and difficulty
- stiff muscles
- abnormal muscle tone
- a lack of muscle coordination
- tremors or involuntary movements
- excessive drooling and problems with swallowing
- difficulty walking
- favoring one side of the body, such as reaching
with one hand
- neurological problems, such as seizures,
intellectual disabilities, and blindness
Call your doctor immediately if you suspect your child has CP.
Early diagnosis and treatment is very important.
Causes Cerebral Palsy?
CP is caused by an abnormality in brain development or by damage
to the developing brain. The brain damage usually occurs before birth, but it
can also happen during birth or the first years of life. In most cases, the
exact cause of CP isn’t known. Some of the possible causes include:
Is at Risk for Cerebral Palsy?
Certain factors put babies at an increased risk for CP. These
- premature birth
- low birth weight
- being a twin or triplet
- breech birth, which occurs when your baby’s
buttock or feet come out first
of Cerebral Palsy
There are different types of CP that affect various parts of the
brain. Each type causes specific movement disorders. The types of CP are:
Spastic Cerebral Palsy
Spastic CP is the most common type of CP, affecting approximately
80 percent of people with
CP. It causes stiff muscles and exaggerated reflexes, making it difficult to
walk. Many people with spastic CP have walking abnormalities, such as crossing
their knees or making scissor-like movements with their legs while walking.
Muscle weakness and paralysis may also be present. The symptoms can affect the
entire body or just one side of the body.
Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy
People with dyskinetic CP have trouble controlling their body movements.
The disorder causes involuntary, abnormal movements in the arms, legs, and
hands. In some cases, the face and tongue are also affected. The movements can
be slow and writhing or rapid and jerky. They can make it difficult for the
affected person to walk, sit, swallow, or talk.
Hypotonic Cerebral Palsy
Hypotonic CP causes diminished muscle tone and overly relaxed
muscles. The arms and legs move very easily and appear floppy, like a rag doll.
Babies with this type of CP have little control over their head and may have trouble
breathing. As they grow older, they may struggle to sit up straight as a result
of their weakened muscles. They can also have difficulty speaking, poor
reflexes, and walking abnormalities.
Ataxic Cerebral Palsy
Ataxic CP is the least common type of CP. Ataxic CP is characterized
by voluntary muscle movements that often appear disorganized, clumsy, or jerky.
People with this form of CP usually have problems with balance and
coordination. They may have difficulty walking and performing fine motor
functions, such as grasping objects and writing.
Mixed Cerebral Palsy
Some people have a combination of symptoms from the different
types of CP. This is called mixed CP. In most cases of mixed CP, people
experience a mix of spastic and dyskinetic CP.
of Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy is classified according to the Gross Motor
Function Classification System (GMFCS). The World Health Organization and the
Surveillance of Cerebral Palsy in Europe developed the GMFCS as a universal
standard for determining the physical capabilities of people with CP. The
system focuses on:
- the ability to sit
- capability for movement and mobility
- charting independence
- the use of adaptive technology
The five levels of the GMFCS increase with decreasing mobility:
Level 1 Cerebral Palsy
Level 1 CP is characterized by being able to walk without
Level 2 Cerebral Palsy
A person with level 2 CP can walk long distances without
limitations, but they can’t run or jump. They may need assistive devices, such
as leg and arm braces, when first learning to walk. They also may need to use a
wheelchair to get around outside of their home.
Level 3 Cerebral Palsy
A person with level 3 CP can sit with little support and stand
without any support. They need hand-held assistive devices, such as a walker or
cane, while walking indoors. They also need a wheelchair to get around outside
of the home.
Level 4 Cerebral Palsy
A person with level 4 CP can walk with the use of assistive
devices. They’re able to move independently in a wheelchair, and they need some
support when they’re sitting.
Level 5 Cerebral Palsy
A person with level 5 CP needs support to maintain their head and
neck position. They need support to sit and stand, and they may be able to
control a motorized wheelchair.
Is Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?
A doctor can diagnose CP by taking a complete medical history, performing
a physical exam that includes a detailed neurological exam, and evaluating the
symptoms. Additional testing can include:
- An electroencephalogram is used to evaluate the
electrical activity in the brain. It may be ordered when someone is showing
signs of epilepsy, which causes seizures.
- An MRI scan uses powerful magnets and radio
waves to produce detailed images of the brain. It can identify any
abnormalities or injuries in the brain.
- A CT scan creates clear, cross-sectional images
of the brain. It can also reveal any brain damage.
- A sample of blood may be taken and tested to
rule out other possible conditions, such as bleeding disorders.
If your doctor confirms you have CP, they may refer you to a
specialist who can test for neurological problems that are often associated
with the disorder. These tests may detect:
- vision loss
- speech delays
- intellectual disabilities
- movement disorders
Is Cerebral Palsy Treated?
The goal of treatment is to improve limitations and prevent
complications. Treatment may include assistive aids, medications, and surgery.
Assistive aids include:
- hearing aids
- walking aids
- body braces
Anticonvulsants and muscle relaxants, such as diazepam
are often used to treat CP. These medications can help reduce spasticity and
Surgery may be used to relieve pain and improve mobility. It may
also be needed to release tight muscles or to correct bone abnormalities caused
Other types of treatment for CP include:
- speech therapy
- physical therapy
- occupational therapy
- counseling or psychotherapy
- social services consultations
Can Cerebral Palsy Be Prevented?
The majority of problems that cause CP can’t always be prevented.
However, if you’re pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant, you can take
certain preventive measures to minimize complications. It’s important to get
vaccinated against diseases that can cause fetal brain damage, such as rubella. It’s also crucial
to receive adequate prenatal care. Attending regular appointments with your
doctor during pregnancy can help prevent premature birth, low birth weight, and
Is the Long-Term Outlook for People with Cerebral Palsy?
There’s no cure for CP, but the condition can usually be treated
and managed effectively. The specific type of treatment varies from
person-to-person. Some people with CP may not need very much assistance,
and others might need extensive, long-term care for their symptoms.
Regardless of the severity of the condition, treatment can
improve the lives of those with CP. The following can help many people enhance
their motor skills and ability to communicate:
- assistive aids