Children with cerebral palsy are often prescribed various medications to help them manage symptoms and live a normal life.

How Medications Help

Cerebral palsy is hardly noticeable in some children while others have severe movement problems and other symptoms. There are many medications that can help those with CP control their symptoms and have a more manageable life.

There are medications to help with specific movement issues as well as health problems that may develop as a result of movement problems. For instance, medications are prescribed for children with incontinence caused by an inability to control the muscles for urination.

Common Medications Used to Treat Cerebral Palsy

Each child with cerebral palsy is likely to have a unique combination of medications to treat their specific condition. Some medications are short-term, while others are long-term. Medications and dosages will almost surely be adjusted over time.

Common medications for children with cerebral palsy include:

  • Anticonvulsants
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Nerve blocks
  • Botox
  • Baclofen
  • Anticholinergics

Medications for Spasticity

Spasticity is the most common movement problem in children with cerebral palsy.

Spastic cerebral palsy causes spasms and stiff muscles. Medications to control these symptoms may either be given orally or through an injection, depending on the location of movement issues.

Generalized spasticity is typically treated with muscle relaxants or benzodiazepines such as Valium. Baclofen, another drug used to treat generalized spasticity, may carry a lower risk of increased tolerance than benzodiazepines. Baclofen may be given orally or injected directly into the patient’s spinal fluid.

If spasticity is localized to a specific area, nerve blocks may be injected into the muscles where movement is affected. Botox is also used in certain cases to reduce localized spasticity.

Common side effects from medications that reduce spasticity include:

  • Fatigue
  • Drowsiness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea

Medications for Involuntary Movement

Athetoid cerebral palsy is characterized by low muscle tone and involuntary movements. Children with athetoid CP may be prescribed medications to keep uncontrollable movements to a minimum.

Anticholinergic drugs ease symptoms by blocking nerve impulses that cause uncontrollable movements. They may also help control drooling, a common symptom of athetoid cerebral palsy.

Common side effects include:

  • Incontinence
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation

Medications for Seizures

Injuries to the brain increase the likelihood of developing seizures. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that many children with cerebral palsy develop some form of epilepsy. A report by the Centers for Disease Control in 2008 found that 41 percent of children with CP across multiple states had co-occurring epilepsy. There are several medications that reduce the frequency of seizures.

The two common types of drugs used to treat seizures are barbiturates and benzodiazepines, although the latter is more commonly used. Benzodiazepines that are often prescribed include Dilantin, Klonopin and Valium. These drugs are useful anticonvulsants, muscle relaxants and anti-anxiety drugs.

Some of the common side effects of these drugs include:

  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion

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Other Conditions Treated with Medications

There are several other conditions caused by cerebral palsy that can be medically treated. Other conditions are common because of problems with muscle movement and secondary conditions due to birth injuries. Movement problems in children with cerebral palsy can lead to co-occurring conditions, such as acid reflux. Additionally, the brain damage that causes CP may also cause separate issues, such as intellectual disorders that require medication.

Incontinence

The inability to control urinary muscles often leads to incontinence. Tofranil or DDAVP (desmopressin acetate) nasal spray may be used to control incontinence.

Acid reflux

Another issue caused by a lack of muscle control is gastroesophageal reflux. In children with CP, the muscle that prevents stomach acid from traveling up the esophagus may not be strong enough to prevent acid reflux. Over-the-counter medications that decrease acid production in the stomach, such as Zantac, are often beneficial.

Behavioral disorders

Some children with cerebral palsy develop behavioral or intellectual disorders. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is common in children with CP. Adderall and Ritalin are some of the most common medications used to treat ADHD.

Is Medication Necessary?

Many parents are understandably concerned about placing their children on too many medications. Fear of side effects and dependence on these medications often lead parents to explore alternatives.

While alternatives to medications are sometimes recommended, such as yoga and physical therapy for movement problems, parents shouldn’t dismiss medications recommended by a doctor. Doctors strive to tailor medications to every child’s specific needs and will almost never suggest any that are unnecessary.

Therefore, parents should consider treatments like physical therapy as supplements to medication rather than alternatives. Supplementing a child’s medication with a healthy lifestyle may also reduce the need for certain medications.

Treating Your Child With Medication

Parents should discuss their goals for their child’s quality of life with a doctor before medication is prescribed. The pros and cons of medications should be carefully considered. Every child is different, and not all children require medication.

To learn more about the various medications used to treat cerebral palsy, try downloading our free Cerebral Palsy Guide. This guide includes over 60 pages of in-depth information for children and parents of a child with CP.

Sources & Author Edited: May 27, 2016
  1. Understanding Cerebral Palsy: A Guide for Parents and Professionals. Marion Stanton. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. London and Philadelphia. 2012.
  2. Cerebral Palsy: A Complete Guide for Caregiving 2nd ed. Freeman Miller, M.D. and Steven J. Bachrach, M.D. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, MD. 2006.
  3. Children with Cerebral Palsy: A Parent’s Guide 2nd ed. Edited by Elaine Geralis. Chapter 1: What is Cerebral Palsy? by Dr. Elliot S. Gersh. Chapter 3: Medical Concerns and Treatment by Dr. Gersh. Woodbine House, Inc. Bethesda, MD. 1998.
  4. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cerebral-palsy/basics/treatment/con-20030502
  5. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Cerebral-palsy/Pages/Treatment.aspx
  6. http://www.mychildwithoutlimits.org/understand/cerebral-palsy/cerebral-palsy-treatment/cerebral-palsy-muscle-tone-management/
  7. https://www.aan.com/Guidelines/home/GetGuidelineContent/389
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Cerebral Palsy Guide