Fact: Cerebral palsy is the most common childhood physical disability.
Definition of Cerebral Palsy
While Cerebral Palsy (pronounced seh-ree-brel pawl-zee) is a blanket term commonly referred to as “CP” and described by loss or impairment of motor function, Cerebral Palsy is actually caused by brain damage. The word “cerebral” refers to the brain’s cerebrum, which is the part of the brain that regulates motor function. “Palsy” describes the paralysis of voluntary movement in certain parts of the body.
Current research suggests the majority of Cerebral Palsy cases result from abnormal brain development or brain injury prior to birth or during labor and delivery. Accidents, abuse, medical malpractice, negligence, infections, and injury are some known risk factors that may lead to Cerebral Palsy.
Cerebral Palsy (CP) affects body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance. It can also impact fine motor skills, gross motor skills and oral motor functioning.
Some children with CP also have coexisting conditions, such as vision and hearing impairment. These disorders are caused by brain damage and are not a direct result of one’s cerebral palsy.
Cerebral palsy does not generally affect life expectancy. Depending on how the condition is managed, motor skills can improve or decline over time. While symptoms and severity vary from case to case, most people diagnosed with this condition go on to lead a rich, fulfilling life.
Facts and Statistics on CP
- Cerebral palsy is the most common childhood physical disability. Recent estimates conclude that nearly 764,000 people in the U.S. have CP.
- There are 4 main types of cerebral palsy: Spastic, Athetoid/Dyskinetic, Ataxic and Mixed. Spastic CP is the most common, making up about 70% of the cases.
- CP is a non-progressive disorder, meaning it will not get worse over time. Most cases can be effectively managed with treatment and continued care.
- 2 in 3 people with cerebral palsy can walk. While some children with CP require mobility aids, many are able to walk independently.
- 3 in 4 people with CP are able to verbally communicate. Oftentimes, assistive devices are used to help improve speech and hearing.
- Thereis no known cure for cerebral palsy. Fortunately, there are many treatments that can helkp both children and adults with CP who live a full life
Causes of Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the fetal or infant brain. It occurs when there is neurological damage before, during, or within five years of birth that prevents the brain from developing properly.
Damage to the parts of the brain that control motor function causes children with CP to struggle with posture, balance and movement. Although this disability affects muscle tone and movement, it isn’t caused by problems with the actual muscles or nerves — it is strictly the result of developmental brain damage.
The first question many parents have following a recent CP diagnosis is what could have caused their child’s brain injury. It’s important that parents work with doctors and specialists in order to conclude which factors may have contributed to their child’s condition.
Common causes of CP include:
- Bacterial and viral infections
- Bleeding in the brain (hemorrhaging)
- A lack of oxygen to the brain before, during or after birth (asphyxia)
- Prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol, mercury poisoning from fish and toxoplasmosis from raw/undercooked meat
- Head injuries sustained during birth or in the first few years of infancy
Not every case of cerebral palsy has a clear cut explanation. It’s estimated that 20 to 50 percent of cases have unknown causes. Clinical trials are just one technique being used to conduct further research on the potential causes of CP.
Risk Factors For Developing CP
Infants born prematurely are at a higher risk of developing cerebral palsy because of the complications that arise in these births, such as bleeding in the brain. Estimates show that 10 to 30 percent of people with cerebral palsy were born prematurely. A low birth weight can also increase the chances of developing CP.
Some additional risk factors include:
- Abnormal deliveries, such as a breech birth (feet first)
- Maternal diabetes or high blood pressure
- Poor maternal health
The Symptoms of CP
The symptoms of cerebral palsy are different for every child. Some symptoms are hardly noticeable, while others are more intense. The severity of a child’s brain injury will ultimately determine the symptoms that develop.
The most common signs of cerebral palsy are:
- Problems with movement on one side of body
- Stiff muscles
- Exaggerated or jerky reflexes
- Involuntary movements or tremors
- Lack of coordination and balance
- Problems swallowing or sucking
- Difficulty with speech (dysarthria)
- Contractures (shortening of muscles)
- Delayed motor skill development
- Gastrointestinal problems
Types of Cerebral Palsy
There are a few different types of cerebral palsy. CP is classified by the type and location of movement problems. There are also different levels of severity among each case of cerebral palsy.
The 4 main types are:
How Cerebral Palsy Is Diagnosed
A cerebral palsy diagnosis usually takes place anywhere between 18 months and 5 years of age. Parents and caregivers are usually the first to notice delays in a child’s development, which is one of the first signs of cerebral palsy. However, every child develops at his or her own pace, so doctors often hesitate to make an immediate diagnosis until further symptoms can be observed.
Several imaging tests may be used to diagnose cerebral palsy, including:
Treatment For Cerebral Palsy
Treatment for CP is twofold — there is treatment early in life and lifelong management.
Early treatment for children with cerebral palsy is important because the developing brain and body are more resilient. This means that there are more opportunities to correct or improve some of the child’s mobility limitations during this time.
Treatment isn’t focused on curing or fully correcting a child’s CP. Rather, it’s about nurturing a child’s development so they can live as independently as possible. Many children with cerebral palsy are completely self-sufficient and have satisfying, meaningful lives. Actively treating the symptoms that coincide with CP is the best way to ensure the highest quality of life for a child as they transition into adulthood.
Children with cerebral palsy can improve their motor skills with the help of traditional and alternative therapy, medication, surgery and more. Parents should seek out a multidisciplinary team of specialists to effectively treat their child’s condition.
Information on this page taken directly from
MyChild at CerebralPalsy.org
Cerebral Palsy Guide
Want to learn more?
The following are organizations and/or websites dedicated to providing information and education surrounding Cerebral Palsy. These organizations are dedicated to research, education, awareness, and/or support. They are listed in Alphabetical order without any preference or prejudice. Listing these organizations is not a recommendation or referral in any regard for seeking treatment or consultation or support for treatment.
Birth Injury Center
Cerebral Palsy Group
Cerebral Palsy Guidance
Cerebral Palsy Guide
MyChild at CerebralPalsy.org
MyChild Cerebral Palsy Foundation
United Cerebral Palsy
Did you know you have legal options if your child is born with Cerebral Palsy due to birth injury? Please click here or here for more information
Please note: We are not affiliated with these organizations in any way and have listed it here in an effort simplify access to reputable legal representation