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.
Depending on how the condition is managed, motor skills can improve or worsen over time. While symptoms and severity vary from case to case, there are many medical and support options to help people diagnosed with this condition lead fulfilling lives.
Was your child recently diagnosed with cerebral palsy? You may qualify for financial assistance. Get your free case review now!
Causes of Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the fetal or infant brain. It can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of brain damage, but there are several factors that may cause a child to develop the condition.
- 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
Any brain damage within the first 5 years of life may prevent the brain from developing properly.
Damage to the parts of the brain that control motor function can cause children to struggle with muscle tone, posture, balance, and movement.
Cerebral Palsy Caused by Medical Negligence
Some children develop cerebral palsy as the result of a birth injury caused by medical malpractice or negligence. These types of cerebral palsy cases stem from inadequate care from medical professionals during the childbirth process.
Some examples of medical negligence that can lead to cerebral palsy are:
- Failure to detect and/or properly treat infections
- Failure to detect changes in fetal heart rate
- Failure to schedule or perform a medically advisable cesarean section (C-section)
- Failure to detect a prolapsed umbilical cord
- Improper use of delivery tools, such as vacuum extractors and forceps
Medical professionals are trained to provide a high quality of care to their patients in the delivery room. Those who fail to do so should be held responsible for their actions.
Parents who suspect their child’s cerebral palsy was caused by medical negligence may be able to take legal action and receive financial help. A cerebral palsy lawyer can serve as a trusted advocate in determining if you may be able to receive financial compensation.
Types of Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy is broken down into different types to help describe how the brain damage affects motor skills. Each type of cerebral palsy is categorized by the type of movement issue(s) and body part(s) affected.
Spastic Cerebral Palsy
- Spastic Cerebral Palsy
Spastic cerebral palsy, also known as hypertonic or pyramidal cerebral palsy, is the most common type. It makes up about 77% of all cases, according to a study by the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.
This cerebral palsy type is caused by motor cortex or pyramidal tract damage. Damage to these specific areas of the brain can cause issues with voluntary movement and muscle signaling. Individuals with spastic cerebral palsy may experience high muscle tone and jerky movement.
Common signs and symptoms of spastic cerebral palsy include:
- Abnormal walking
- Awkward reflexes
- Contractures (permanently tightened muscles or joints)
- Stiffness in one area of the body
Athetoid Cerebral Palsy
- Athetoid Cerebral Palsy
Athetoid cerebral palsy, also known as dyskinetic or non-spastic cerebral palsy, makes up about 2.6% of all cases. Athetoid cerebral palsy is considered extrapyramidal, as the extrapyramidal tracts in the brain regulate involuntary reflexes and movement.
This type of cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the brain’s basal ganglia and/or cerebellum. These parts of the brain control voluntary motor function, eye movement, balance, and coordination. The main trait of athetoid cerebral palsy is involuntary movement in the face, torso, and limbs.
Common symptoms associated with athetoid cerebral palsy include:
- Feeding issues
- Floppiness in the limbs
- Problems with posture
- Stiff or rigid body
Ataxic Cerebral Palsy
- Ataxic Cerebral Palsy
Ataxic cerebral palsy accounts for about 2.4% of all cerebral palsy cases. This type is caused by damage to the cerebellum, which controls balance and coordination.
Individuals with ataxic cerebral palsy experience tremors and reductions in muscle tone.
Common symptoms of ataxic cerebral palsy include:
- Difficulty speaking
- Problems with depth perception
- Shakiness and tremors
- Spreading feet apart when walking
Hypotonic Cerebral Palsy
- Hypotonic Cerebral Palsy
Hypotonic cerebral palsy, also known as atonic cerebral palsy, is a form of cerebral palsy classified by low muscle tone. This type of cerebral palsy occurs in 2.6% of all cases of the condition.
Hypotonia is characterized by loss of muscle strength/firmness resulting in floppy muscles. This can result in delayed developmental milestones such as crawling, standing, or walking.
Common symptoms of hypotonic cerebral palsy include:
- Flexible joints and ligaments
- Lack of head control
- Loose muscles
- Poor balance and stability
Mixed Cerebral Palsy
- Mixed Cerebral Palsy
It is possible for a child to develop multiple types of cerebral palsy caused by damage to several areas of the brain. Mixed cerebral palsy is classified by an individual showing symptoms of more than one type of cerebral palsy. Around 15.4% of all cases are mixed type.
The most common mixed cerebral palsy diagnosis is a combination of spastic and athetoid cerebral palsy. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to seek help from a specialist if they suspect more than one type of cerebral palsy is present.
Cerebral Palsy Signs & Symptoms
Cerebral palsy in children causes numerous physical and neurological signs and symptoms. These symptoms differ for each child depending on the severity and location of brain damage.Physical Symptoms
- Contractures (shortening of muscles)
- Exaggerated or jerky reflexes
- Floppy muscle tone
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Involuntary movements or tremors
- Lack of coordination and balance
- Problems swallowing or sucking
- Problems with movement on one side of the body
- Stiff muscles (spasticity)
- Buildup of cranial pressure due to fluid imbalance (hydrocephalus)
- Behavioral problems
- Delayed motor skill development
- Difficulty with speech and language (dysarthria)
- Sensory impairments
- Visual/hearing impairments
Parents and caregivers should monitor the timeline of their child’s developmental milestones, as babies with cerebral palsy may have developmental delays that go unnoticed.
Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis
Cerebral palsy is usually diagnosed anywhere between 18 months and 5 years of age. Although parents and caregivers may be the first to notice signs of cerebral palsy in infants, doctors often hesitate to make an immediate diagnosis until further symptoms can be observed as the child gets older.
A cerebral palsy diagnosis is made using imaging tests to observe any form of brain damage.
Imaging tests used to diagnose cerebral palsy include:
- Cranial ultrasounds
- Computed tomography scans (CT)
- Electroencephalograms (EEG)
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
It is important to see a specialist if you suspect your child is showing developmental signs of cerebral palsy. A cerebral palsy specialist can examine your child and run tests to diagnose their condition. Parents can begin managing their child’s condition and start any necessary treatment once a diagnosis is made.
Can Cerebral Palsy Be Prevented?
There is no way to completely guarantee a healthy pregnancy and delivery and no current method to fully prevent a child from developing cerebral palsy. That said, there are several preventive measures that parents and doctors can take to reduce the risk of delivering a baby born with cerebral palsy.
Routine doctor visits throughout pregnancy are crucial to catching any complications and risk factors that may lead to cerebral palsy in infants. Consistent check-ups can help detect issues such as incompatible blood types to reduce the risk of complications.
Expectant mothers can also work to avoid the following risk factors:
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, recreational drugs, and prescription drugs known to pose risks during pregnancy
- Avoid exposure to infections or viruses known to impact fetal health (for example, German measles, cytomegalovirus, and Zika)
- Control underlying health issues, such as blood pressure, diabetes, etc.
- Get routinely vaccinated
- Identify any potential Rh incompatibility (difference in presence of red blood cell proteins) between mother and child leading to hemolytic anemia or jaundice
There are also steps that can be taken during childbirth to prevent cerebral palsy. It is essential for parents to be prepared and informed about the birthing process.
Medical staff will monitor fetal vital signs and determine the safest delivery method. If you feel you or your child is at risk, alert a doctor immediately. Any delay in medical attention may increase the chance of developing cerebral palsy at birth.
Cerebral Palsy Life Expectancy
Cerebral palsy does not generally affect life expectancy. Individuals living with cerebral palsy are able to live fulfilling lives, but there are some factors that may affect life expectancy.
These factors include:
- 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.
A cerebral palsy prognosis predicts the long-term effects the condition may have on a child’s mobility, development, and overall quality of life. Doctors will make a prognosis by examining motor skills, reflexes, and developmental milestones in an infant with cerebral palsy.
In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a report which relied on data from over 1,300 studies of disabilities in people with cerebral palsy. The study analyzed individuals’ conditions which provided insight into their prognosis.
The report found that of people with cerebral palsy:
- 1 in 2 have some form of intellectual disability
- 1 in 3 are unable to walk
- 1 in 4 are unable to speak
- 1 in 3 have hip displacements
- 1 in 4 have epilepsy
- 1 in 4 have a behavioral disorder
- 1 in 4 have bladder control problems
- 1 in 10 are blind
- 1 in 15 have to be tube-fed
- 1 in 25 are deaf
Cerebral Palsy and Coexisting Conditions
Babies with cerebral palsy may also experience coexisting conditions. Damage to the developing brain can cause an array of health complications that are not a direct result of cerebral palsy.
Conditions that may occur alongside cerebral palsy include:
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
- Chronic pain
- Intellectual disabilities
- Mental health disorders
- Speech disorders
- Vision or hearing impairments
Cerebral Palsy Treatment
There are several different methods used to treat cerebral palsy symptoms. Cerebral palsy babies may require early medical intervention to help brain development. There are more opportunities to correct or improve some of the child’s mobility limitations during this time.
Cerebral palsy treatment is not focused on curing or fully correcting a child’s condition but is focused on nurturing a child’s development to encourage an independent life.
Actively treating the symptoms that coincide with cerebral palsy is the best way to ensure the highest quality of life for a child as they transition into adulthood. Your doctor will create a treatment plan that caters to your child’s specific needs.
MedicationMedication may be used to treat some symptoms of cerebral palsy, including involuntary movement, seizures, and spasticity.
Common classes of medications for children with cerebral palsy include:
- Anticholinergics (neurotransmitter blockers)
- Anticonvulsants (suppress neurons that cause seizures)
- Antidepressants (relieve symptoms of depression)
- Anti-inflammatories (reduce pain and inflammation)
- Baclofen (muscle relaxer)
- Benzodiazepines (treats anxiety, seizures, and insomnia)
- Botox (treats spasticity)
- Muscle relaxants
- Nerve blocks
- Stool softeners
Medication may also be used to treat secondary disorders caused by cerebral palsy such as incontinence, acid reflux, behavioral disorders, and more.
There are several different therapy options to help treat cerebral palsy symptoms. Therapy can be used to improve mobility and brain cognition.
Physical therapy can help relieve pain and muscle stiffness, as well as improve balance, coordination, and overall mobility. Physical therapists will use specialized equipment that helps your child move more freely and live more independently.
Occupational therapy helps children with cerebral palsy learn how to complete everyday tasks and activities by improving fine motor skills and cognitive ability.
Speech therapy can help children to improve their communication and language skills. This type of therapy can give children the confidence to learn and socialize. Speech therapy can also help children who have difficulty eating and swallowing.
Alternative therapy helps children focus on themselves as an individual and lets them overcome physical and mental obstacles. Alternative therapy includes hippotherapy, music therapy, aquatic therapy, acupuncture, and more.
Surgery may be recommended for children with severe mobility and muscle issues. Surgery can correct or improve issues with movement in the legs, ankles, feet, hips, wrists, and arms. Muscles, tendons, bones, and nerves are operated on to improve movement in these areas of the body.
Cerebral palsy surgery may be recommended to:
- Correct fixed joints and tendons
- Correct foot deformities
- Correct muscle contractures
- Correct spinal curvatures (scoliosis)
- Improve posture
- Improve balance and coordination
- Prevent hip dislocation
- Prevent spinal deformities
- Reduce tremors
- Relieve pain
- Relieve stiff muscles
- Treat co-occurring conditions
Specialized assistive devices can help individuals with cerebral palsy that experienced issues with communication, hearing, and vision.
Types of assistive devices include:
- Cochlear implants
- Electronic communication boards
- Eye-tracking devices
- Typing aids
- Writing aids
Children with mobility limitations may benefit from assistive technology that can be adjusted to their individual needs. Mobility aids aim to help children with cerebral palsy move freely and can greatly improve their quality of life and independence.
Types of mobility aids include:
- Power scooters
- Orthotic devices
- Walking sticks
How Can I Afford My Child’s Care?
Many families feel overwhelmed and unprepared to pay for the costs of care that accompany living with cerebral palsy. Thankfully, there are many options to help families pay for treatment costs and other expenses.
Cerebral palsy financial assistance is available to alleviate any financial burdens placed on your family so you can focus on getting your child quality care. There are many foundations with available funds to research cerebral palsy. There are also several options for government assistance that can help cover treatment costs.
Another form of financial assistance can come from compensation from a lawsuit. If you believe your child’s cerebral palsy was preventable and caused by medical negligence, get a free case review today to learn more about taking legal action.
Cerebral Palsy Frequently Asked Questions
Is there a cure for cerebral palsy?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for cerebral palsy. That said, there are many treatment options available to treat symptoms such as therapy, medication, surgery, assistive technology, and more.
What are the risk factors for cerebral palsy?
There are several risk factors before, during, and after pregnancy that can lead to cerebral palsy at birth.
Risk Factors During Pregnancy
- Bacterial and viral infections
- Exposure to toxins
- Incompatible blood type between mother and fetus
- Maternal health issues such as bleeding, blood clotting, seizures, and thyroid problems
Risk Factors During Labor and Delivery
- Breech birth (baby delivered feet or rear-end first)
- High birth weight (more than 8 pounds, 13 ounces)
- Inability of placenta to provide nutrients and oxygen
- Improper use of vacuum extractors or forceps
- Low birth weight (less than 5 pounds, 7.5 ounces)
- Loss of oxygen to the infant brain (hypoxia)
- Premature birth (child born before start of 37th week of pregnancy)
Risk Factors After Childbirth
- Head trauma
- Lack of oxygen (asphyxiation)
- Severe jaundice
- Vascular problems shortly after birth
How does cerebral palsy affect the brain?
Cerebral palsy affects the cerebral cortex area of the brain. The cerebral cortex is the outer layer of the brain that controls muscle movement. Damage to this area can cause disruption in messages sent from the brain to the body, resulting in movement issues.
How does cerebral palsy affect the body?
Cerebral palsy can cause issues with motor function control. Individuals with cerebral palsy may have issues with voluntary and/or involuntary movement which can result in jerky or floppy movements.
Cerebral palsy also affects muscle tone. Some individuals may suffer from contractures due to stiff muscles, whereas others may experience floppy or loose muscles.
How do I know if my child has cerebral palsy?
There are several common signs and symptoms that present themselves in children with cerebral palsy. It is important to note any signs of delayed or missed developmental milestones within the first year of life.
That said, the only way to know for sure that your child has cerebral palsy is to consult with a doctor who will be able to run diagnostic testing.
Is cerebral palsy genetic?
Although cerebral palsy itself is not hereditary and is generally caused by birth trauma, there are potential genetic factors that may lead to the development of cerebral palsy.
According to a 2020 study by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), about 14% of cerebral palsy cases may be tied to genes.
What should I do if I think my child has cerebral palsy?
It is important to consult with a cerebral palsy specialist as soon as possible if you think your child has cerebral palsy. Specialized doctors will be able to conduct tests to diagnose your child and create a treatment plan.
Getting diagnosed and starting treatment early can help improve cerebral palsy signs and symptoms in a timely manner and can improve their overall quality of life.
If you have any additional questions, contact us today to learn more about cerebral palsy.