About Cerebral Palsy

What is Cerebral Palsy?

The term cerebral palsy refers to any one of a number of neurological disorders that appear in infancy or early childhood. These disorders permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination, but don’t worsen over time.   The majority of children with cerebral palsy are born with it, although it may not be detected until months or years later. CP is the most common motor disability in childhood.

Cerebral palsy doesn’t always cause profound disabilities.  While one child with severe cerebral palsy might be unable to walk and need extensive, lifelong care, another with mild cerebral palsy might not require special assistance. Supportive treatments, medications, and surgery can help many individuals improve their motor skills and ability to communicate with the world.

Cerebral Palsy Biology 101

Cerebral palsy (CP) is caused by abnormal development of the brain or damage to the developing brain that affects a child’s ability to control his or her muscles. There are several possible causes of the abnormal development or damage. People used to think that CP was mainly caused by lack of oxygen during the birth process. Now, scientists think that this causes only a small number of CP cases.

The brain damage that leads to CP can happen before birth, during birth, within a month after birth, or during the first years of a child’s life, while the brain is still developing.

-Types of Cerebral Palsy-

Spastic hemiplegeia

A child with spastic hemiplegeia will typically have spasticity (muscle stiffness) on one side of the body – usually just a hand and arm, but may also involve a leg. The side that is affected may not develop properly. The child may have speech problems. In the majority of cases intelligence is not affected. Some children will have seizures.

Spastic quadriplegia

The child’s legs, arms, and body are affected. This is the severest from of spastic cerebral palsy. Children with this kind of cerebral palsy are more likely to have mental retardation. Walking and talking will be difficult. Some children have seizures.

Spastic diplegia

The lower limbs are affected, and there is no or little upper body spasticity. The child’s leg and hip muscles are tight. Legs cross at the knees, making walking more difficult. The crossing of the legs when the child is upright is often referred to as scissoring.

Ataxic cerebral palsy

The child’s balance and depth perception are affected. Depth perception refers to a person’s ability to judge where objects are in relation to where he/she is. It is the least diagnosed type of cerebral palsy. The child will find it difficult to tie his/her shoelaces, button up shirts, cut with scissors, and other fine motor skills. Because of balance difficulties, the child may walk with the feet far apart. There may be intention tremors – a shaking that starts with a voluntary movement, such as reaching out for a toy, the closer he/she gets to the toy the worse the tremors become. Most children with ataxic cerebral palsy are of normal intelligence and have good communication skills. Some may have erratic speech.

Athetoid or dyskinetic (or athetoid dyskinetic) cerebral palsy

This is the second most common type of cerebral palsy. Intelligence will nearly always be normal, but the whole body will be affected by muscle problems. Muscle tone is weak or tight – causing random and uncontrolled body movements. The child will have problems walking, sitting, maintaining posture, and speaking clearly (tongue and vocal cords are hard to control). Some children drool if they have problems controlling facial muscles.

Hypotonic cerebral palsy

Muscle problems will appear much earlier. The baby’s head is floppy, and he/she cannot control the head when sitting up. Some parents have described their child’s movements as similar to that of a rag doll. The baby gives only a moderate amount of resistance when an adult tries to move their limbs. The baby may rest with his/her elbows and knees loosely extended, compared to other infants whose elbows/knees will be flexed. Some babies may have breathing difficulties.

Signs & Symptoms

The early signs of cerebral palsy usually appear before a child reaches 3 years of age.  The most common are a lack of muscle coordination when performing voluntary movements (ataxia); stiff or tight muscles and exaggerated reflexes (spasticity); walking with one foot or leg dragging; walking on the toes, a crouched gait, or a “scissored” gait; and muscle tone that is either too stiff or too floppy.

Is There Any Treatment?

Cerebral palsy can’t be cured, but treatment will often improve a child’s capabilities.  In general, the earlier treatment begins the better chance children have of overcoming developmental disabilities or learning new ways to accomplish the tasks that challenge them.   Treatment may include physical and occupational therapy, speech therapy, drugs to control seizures, relax muscle spasms, and alleviate pain; surgery to correct anatomical abnormalities or release tight muscles; braces and other orthotic devices; wheelchairs and rolling walkers; and communication aids such as computers with attached voice synthesizers.

What are the Chances My Child Will be Born with Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common motor disability in childhood. Population-based studies from around the world report prevalence estimates of CP ranging from 1.5 to more than 4 per 1,000 live births or children of a defined age range. About 1 in 323 children has been identified with CP according to estimates from CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.

While Cerebral Palsy related to genetic condition cannot be prevented, certain risk factors may increase a child’s likelihood of contracting CP when they are not genetically pre-disposed. Asphyxia, bloot-type incompatibility, premature birth, traumatic brain damage, placenta complications, infection, intra-uterine growth restriction, multiple births, and fertility drugs will all increase risk of your child being born with CP.

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