How Common is Cerebral Palsy?

baby footFinding out your child has cerebral palsy (CP) can make you feel alone. Yet you will soon realize you and your child are a part of something much bigger – an enormous community of children and adults living with CP around the world. Cerebral palsy is surprisingly common, and does not mean you did something wrong during pregnancy or delivery. Get the facts on cerebral palsy’s prevalence to see where your child fits into the mix.

Statistics on Cerebral Palsy in the United States

Cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability among children, according to the latest available prevalence study. It affects more children than traumatic injuries and diseases or congenital conditions. It affects three to four per 1,000 children born in the United States. That equates to nearly 10,000 babies born with CP per year. U.S. studies have shown around 764,000 people are currently living with cerebral palsy. The majority (about 500,000) are children under the age of 18. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that around one in 323 children have CP.

Despite improvements in prenatal care and infant mortality rates in the U.S, the number of babies born with cerebral palsy has remained relatively constant over the last 20 years. From the 17-year period from 1985 to 2002, cerebral palsy prevalence decreased marginally from one in 526 children to one in 555 born with the condition. Some medical experts predict an increase in the number of babies with CP, partially due to a greater use of artificial insemination techniques, which can increase the risk of cerebral palsy.

Artificial insemination comes with an increased possibility of multiple births. Most cases of multiple births experience pre-term delivery and related low birthweights. Low birthweight is one of the risk factors that can cause CP, due to health complications from undeveloped nervous systems and body parts. Infection in premature babies is also a significant risk, and something else that could cause CP. Nearly half of infants who develop CP have premature births. A greater number of multiple births from artificial insemination in the future could result in CP rates increasing in the coming years.

Cerebral Palsy Demographics

Racial disparities have persisted over time in children developing cerebral palsy. Studies show that black children have a slightly higher risk of having CP compared to other races. Both white and Hispanic children have around the same risk of cerebral palsy. CP is also more common in boys than girls, although medical experts have yet to determine why. Thus, black boys have the highest odds of developing cerebral palsy compared to other demographics. Children with low birthweights and other factors are also at higher risk.

The most common type of cerebral palsy is spastic. Around 80% of children with CP have spastic cerebral palsy. Spastic cerebral palsy comes with symptoms such as stiff muscles and jerky, uncontrollable movements. Children with spastic CP have increased muscle tone (hypertonia), rather than muscle weakness. This can make mobility difficult or impossible. Your child may have spastic CP if his or her muscles seem stiff, if he/she has difficulty handling objects, or if he/she struggles with speech or feeding. Spastic CP can affect each child differently.

Prevalence in the Future

Many people are doing plenty of work on the task of reducing the prevalence of cerebral palsy in children, from spreading awareness of factors that could increase the risk of CP to supporting research efforts. Better prenatal care and a greater understanding of what causes cerebral palsy may help doctors prevent this condition in the future. In the meantime, exciting medical advances such as umbilical cord stem cell infusions may have the power to reverse the symptoms of cerebral palsy, giving parents hope for the future.