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Cerebral Palsy Guide is a national resource for families with children affected by cerebral palsy. Find community or financial support organizations, information about treatment options and additional resources for transitioning into adulthood with cerebral palsy. For legal questions about cerebral palsy, call (866) 642-0773
What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that vary in severity and affect normal movement in different parts of the body. This condition can cause problems with posture, gait (manner of walking), muscle tone, and coordination of movement. 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.
Types of Cerebral Palsy
The different types of cerebral palsy are classified by the type of movement issues and body parts affected. The five major types of cerebral palsy are:
- Spastic-the most common type and accounts for 77% of all cases. Most individuals with this type experience high muscle tone and exaggerated, jerky movements. Common symptoms of spastic cerebral palsy are stiffness in one part of the body, awkward reflexes and abnormal gait.
- Ataxic-accounts for about 2.4% of all cerebral palsy cases. This type of cerebral palsy causes ataxia and issues with balance, coordination, and voluntary movement. Common symptoms of ataxic cerebral palsy are shakiness and tremors, problems with depth perception and difficulty with speech.
- Athetoid-also known as non-spastic or dyskinetic cerebral palsy. This type affects about 2.6% of children diagnosed with cerebral palsy and causes issues with involuntary movement in the face, torso, and limbs. Common symptoms of athetoid cerebral palsy are stiff or rigid body, floppiness in the limbs and feeding issues.
- Hypotonic-classified by low muscle tone that causes loss of strength and firmness, resulting in floppy muscles. Common symptoms of hypotonic cerebral palsy are flexible joints and ligaments, loose muscles and lack of head control.
- Mixed type-occurs when there symptoms of two or more types of cerebral palsy. About 15.4% of all cases are diagnosed as mixed type cerebral palsy.The most common mixed cerebral palsy diagnosis is a combination of spastic and athetoid cerebral palsy.
What Causes Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral Palsy is caused by damage to the parts of the fetal or infant brain that control motor function. Children born with cerebral palsy may struggle with muscle tone, posture, balance, and movement. It may difficult to determine the exact cause of brain damage. Causes of cerebral palsy include:
- Bacterial and viral infections such as meningitis
- Bleeding in the brain (hemorrhaging)
- Head injuries sustained during birth or within the first few years of infancy
- Lack of oxygen to the brain before, during, or after birth (asphyxia)
- Mercury poisoning from fish
- Prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol
- Toxoplasmosis from raw/undercooked meat
- Birth injury due to medical negligence
Cerebral Palsy Caused by Medical Negligence
Some cases of cerebral palsy are caused by an injury to an infant due to the negligence of healthcare providers during the birthing process. According to the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys (ABPLA), medical malpractice occurs when a hospital, doctor, or other health care professional causes injury to a patient through a negligent act. If you suspect your child’s cerebral palsy may have been caused by medical malpractice or negligence, contact Patient Advocate and a lawyer with Cerebral Palsy Guide for a Free Case Review
Diagnosis and Treatment
Cerebral palsy is typically diagnosed anywhere between 18 months and 5 years of age. A Cerebral Palsy Specialist may use different types of imaging to identify brain damage. Cerebral Palsy Specialists include pediatricians, neurologists, and therapists who can diagnose, treat and coordinate care for those diagnosed with cerebral palsy along with any co-existing conditions such as (but not limited to) speech and visual impairments, intellectual and cognitive impairment, epilepsy or mental health disorders.
Is Cerebral Palsy Preventable?
Preventive measures taken by parents and doctors are the best to reduce the risk of delivering a baby born with cerebral palsy. Routine prenatal visits are crucial to catching any complications and risk factors that may lead to cerebral palsy in infants. Additional risk factors include:
- Drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and using recreational or prescription drugs known to pose risks during pregnancy
- Exposure to infections or viruses known to impact fetal health (for example, German measles, cytomegalovirus, and Zika)
- Uncontrolled underlying health issues, such as blood pressure, diabetes, etc.
- Skipping routine vaccinations
- Failure to identify any potential Rh incompatibility (difference in presence of red blood cell proteins) between mother and child leading to hemolytic anemia or jaundice
It is imperative for expectant parents to be informed of any potential risks and to seek necessary treatment throughout the entire duration of pregnancy and leading up to the birth and post-natal period.
Living With Cerebral Palsy
Individuals living with cerebral palsy are able to live fulfilling lives, but there are some factors that may affect life expectancy, such as:
- Difficulties eating and swallowing
- Impairments in vision, hearing, or speech
- Intellectual disabilities
- Mobility limitations
- Musculoskeletal disorders
- Respiratory disorders
Physical symptoms and motor skills may improve or worsen over time depending on how the condition is managed. Proper treatment of physical and neurological symptoms may improve prognosis and increase life expectancy. Early medical intervention such as surgery, therapy and medications will also help improve the quality of life for those with cerebral palsy. Assistive devices can aid those with sensory or communication issues. Mobility aids such as canes or walkers provide greater range of movement and independence for those who have difficulty with ambulation.
Transitioning into Adulthood with Cerebral Palsy
The last step of having a child with cerebral palsy enter early adulthood is letting go and supporting them as they navigate through life on their own terms. Building skills such as communication, mobilization and self-sufficiency, parents are helping to set their child up for success. The Free Cerebral Palsy Guide is a 12-pages guide with in-depth information for children and parents of a child with cerebral palsy.
Further Reading: Cerebral Palsy Guide: Adults With Cerebral Palsy