What are the Symptoms of CP?

woman and child with cerebral palsyCerebral palsy is a very complex medical condition that can affect a child in numerous ways. Symptoms can range in severity from mild and barely noticeable to profound and debilitating. Children born with cerebral palsy or who develop it during infancy typically experience a range of symptoms that can impact movement, speech, coordination, cognition, and basic unconscious functions. Children with cerebral palsy require comprehensive treatment plans that address their unique symptoms and co-occurring medical conditions.

Most Frequently Seen Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy manifests from brain damage, and the location and severity of the damage typically dictates the symptoms a child with cerebral palsy experiences. Some of the most commonly seen symptoms of cerebral palsy in children include:

  • Cognitive delays. A child with cerebral palsy may face slower intellectual development. Brain damage in the frontal lobe may lead to issues with impulse control, inhibition, concentration, problem solving, and task execution.
  • Autonomic problems. Cerebral palsy can damage the parts of the brain responsible for autonomic nervous system functions like breathing control and heart rate.
  • Visual difficulty. Brain damage that injures the visual processing center of the brain may interfere with image recognition, sight, and other elements of visual perception.
  • Coordination difficulty. Damage to the cerebellum can make it difficult for children to balance and interferes with muscle coordination.
  • Motor problems. The upper motor neuron system of the brain manages bodily movement. Brain damage in this area can lead to spasticity in some body parts, involuntary movements, a lack of muscle tone, poor balance, and muscle rigidity that can make movement difficult or painful.
  • Speech delays. Many areas of the brain control speech and language processing. Any damage to these areas can make reading and interpretation difficult or may interfere with a child’s ability to use his or her tongue and mouth muscles to speak properly.
  • Sensory problems. Damage in various parts of the brain may interfere with memory, olfactory sensation, proprioception (the perception of one’s limb movement through space), and other sensory faculties.

These symptoms can manifest in various ways, and no two children with cerebral palsy will display the same symptoms with the same severity. Some of the other common symptoms of cerebral palsy include:

  • Problems with fine motor skills and precise movements
  • Walking while dragging one foot
  • Shaking and tremors
  • Drooling
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Variations in muscle tone. Some limbs may appear larger in some areas than others and muscle growth may appear unnatural.
  • Ataxia, or lack of muscle coordination
  • Spasticity, or muscle stiffness and rigidity.
Treating the Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy

Before an attending physician can develop a comprehensive treatment plan for a child with cerebral palsy it is first necessary to assess the extent of the child’s brain damage. Various imaging tests such as MRIs, CT scans, and EEG scans can help identify brain damage, seizure disorders, and the cause of other observable symptoms of cerebral palsy.

Parents of children with cerebral palsy must remember that the condition is incurable, but this does not mean it is impossible to treat the child’s symptoms and encourage healthy growth. Some acute issues may benefit from medication or surgical intervention while assistive medical devices like crutches, braces, and walkers can improve mobility and increase a child’s sense of independence.

Children with cerebral palsy generally undergo screening procedures during the first few years of life and may require assistive therapies and treatments for many years. Physical therapy, done on a consistent basis, can encourage better muscle growth, increase strength, and improve balance for better ambulation. Recreational therapy and speech therapy can improve communication and help develop social skills. Ultimately, every child with cerebral palsy needs an individualized treatment plan that addresses his or her unique patterns of symptoms and co-occurring medical conditions.