Introduction to Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy is complex and common.
Cerebral palsy is a physical disability caused by a brain injury during pregnancy, birth, or shortly after birth. It affects movement, coordination, muscle tone and control, reflexes, posture, and balance, and it’s the most common lifelong physical disability in the world.
The term “cerebral palsy” describes chronic conditions affecting body movement and muscle coordination. “Cerebral” refers to the brain and “palsy” to muscle weakness or poor control.
While the initial brain injury doesn’t change, cerebral palsy’s effect — from years or decades of wear and tear — often does change as people age. This can include decreased balance, stamina, walking ability, and other effects, and it varies from person to person.
How common is cerebral palsy?
- 1 in 323 babies are diagnosed with cerebral palsy in the US.
- Every hour a baby is born with cerebral palsy in the US. 40% are born prematurely and 60% are born at term.
- Approximately 18 million people of all ages have cerebral palsy worldwide.
- Around 1.2 million people have cerebral palsy in the US.
How does cerebral palsy affect people?
- 75% experience chronic pain.
- 66% can walk.
- 33% have hip displacement
- 75% can talk.
- 20% are tube-fed.
People with cerebral palsy often have co-occurring conditions.
- 50% have an intellectual impairment.
- 25% have epilepsy.
- 25% have a behavior disorder.
- 20% have a sleep disorder.
- 10% have impaired vision.
- 7% have autism.
- 5% have impaired hearing.
What are the forms of cerebral palsy?
There are four forms of cerebral palsy.
● Spastic Cerebral Palsy: This is the most common form of cerebral palsy. Symptoms include tight muscles and awkward movements.
● Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy: Symptoms include involuntary movements.
● Ataxic Cerebral Palsy: Symptoms include challenges with balance, depth perception, and shaky movements.
● Mixed Cerebral Palsy: A combination of other cerebral palsy forms.
Other impairments can include drooling, chewing and swallowing difficulties, bladder dysfunction, gastrointestinal issues, constipation, respiratory issues, sleeping, and pain.
What parts of the body are affected by cerebral palsy?
Spastic Cerebral Palsy affects different parts of the body.
- Quadriplegia: Both legs and both arms paralyzed or weakened equally
- Diplegia/Bilateral: Both legs affected (and possibly arms to a lesser extent)
- Hemiplegia/Unilateral: One side (arm and leg) affected
- Double Hemiplegia: Both arms affected more than the legs (uncommon)
What causes cerebral palsy?
Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to one or more specific areas of the brain. The damage can be due to genetic or developmental disorders, injury, or disease and may occur during fetal development; before, during or shortly following birth; or during infancy.
Some examples of what can cause cerebral palsy include:
- Not enough oxygen reaching the brain of a fetus or newborn
- Head injury, usually the result of motor vehicle accidents, falls, or child abuse
- Drug addiction
- Brain infection
- Other risk factors including premature birth, low birth weight, blood type incompatibility between mother and infant, infection of the mother in early pregnancy, and micro-organisms that attack the infant’s central nervous system
Most causes of cerebral palsy are related to the developmental and childbearing processes and, since the condition is not inherited, the condition is called congenital cerebral palsy.
Can cerebral palsy be prevented?
Measures of prevention are increasingly possible today. It is very important for women to take care of themselves before becoming pregnant, receive medical care during pregnancy through childbirth, and protect infants from accidents or injury.
Preventive measures for pregnant women include:
- Routine testing and immunization of Rh factors
- Reduced exposure to viruses and other bacterial infections
- Immunization against measles
- Avoiding unnecessary exposure to X-rays, drugs, and medications
- Controlling diabetes, anemia, and nutritional deficiencies
- Preventing premature births
Can a child with cerebral palsy live a normal life?
Cerebral palsy affects each person in different ways. It is true that some people with cerebral palsy need to be cared for their entire lives through family and caregiver support. However, many adults can live full, independent lives or live mostly independently, only requiring help for specific needs.
There are people with cerebral palsy who:
- Attend and graduate from high school
- Attend and graduate from college
- Have successful careers
- Have their own families
- Play and excel at sports, including completing marathons
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Cerebral palsy get worse?
It does not get worse over time. However, secondary conditions can develop which, over time, may get better, get worse, or remain the same.
What are the symptoms of CP?
Cerebral means relating to the brain, and palsy means muscle weakness or other problems with the muscles. Cerebral palsy affects muscle control, growth, and strength. It can cause a range of symptoms, such as:
- Spasticity (muscle stiffness)
- Uncontrollable muscle movements
- Poor balance
- Lack of coordination
- Slowed movements
- Difficulty talking or swallowing
- Vision or hearing difficulties
- Trouble paying attention
Symptoms of CP can vary from person to person. Motor disabilities can be very mild, or profound. Some children may need wheelchairs or assistive devices to walk, although more than half (58.2%) of children with CP can walk on their own. Many children (41%) have epilepsy on top of cerebral palsy, while some have other additional impairments.
Can Cerebral Palsy be passed on?
Cerebral palsy cannot be passed to another person. It is not a disease and should never be referred to as such.
Does CP affect Mental Abilities?
It is common for people to immediately associate cerebral palsy with cognitive or mental disabilities. However, this is not always the case. The majority of patients with CP, in fact, have above-average IQs. Cerebral palsy is a separate disability from mental challenges. If a child with CP does have cognitive difficulties, it is a co-occurring condition, and not the cerebral palsy itself.
Is there a cure for Cerebral Palsy?
Currently there is no cure for cerebral palsy. However, there are a number of assistive technology and treatment options, such as therapy, orthotics, and surgery, that should begin as early as possible through a management team of physicians, therapists, educators, nurses, social workers, and other professionals.
Does CP occur only at birth?
The majority (85%-90%) of cerebral palsy cases are congenital. That means the CP is present from birth. Congenital CP cases occur before or during birth, rather than occurring after birth. Although doctors often do not know the specific cause of cerebral palsy in an infant, damage to the brain before or during birth can contribute.
The remaining CP cases arise from brain damage occurring more than 28 days after birth. This is acquired CP, and most often stems from a head injury or serious infection. Cerebral palsy is not genetic. Someone with CP can conceive, experience a normal pregnancy, and give birth to a child who does not have the condition.