What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy describes a group of developmental disorders that impact a child’s motor function. Cerebral means of the brain and palsy means weakness or paralysis. Cerebral palsy, or CP, is the most common motor disability in young children. It affects about one in 323 children, according to the most recent estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Cerebral palsy is not degenerative, but there is currently no known cure. Learning about CP can help you feel more in control as a parent or caregiver of someone with this condition.

Common Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy

Every child with cerebral palsy can experience unique symptoms, but most have to do with motor control and muscle development. The symptoms you notice in your child can depend on his or her CP severity, age, and treatments or interventions you have tried. In young children (zero to six months), some of the earliest signs of potential CP include an infant that feels floppy, stiff, or that flexes his/her neck and head away from you. Trouble feeding and missed milestones, such as rolling over or crawling, are also possible signs of CP. As a child gets older, other symptoms may include:

  • Developmental delays
  • Trouble walking, talking, eating, or communicating
  • Muscle weakness or no muscle tone
  • Too much muscle tone (hypertonia)
  • Lack of muscle coordination and control
  • Involuntary movements, spasms, jerks, or tremors
  • Poor posture and balance
  • Lack of fine motor function

Some children with CP may be independent and show minor signs of the condition, while others may need assistive technologies or wheelchairs to get around. Damage to different parts of the brain and the severity of the cerebral palsy can determine the symptoms a child shows. Early diagnosis and intervention can improve a child’s odds of increasing quality of life, although it is unfortunately not possible to treat cerebral palsy completely.

What Causes Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy occurs because of a malformation or damage to the brain during development. Issue with brain development before, during, or shortly after birth can cause CP in an infant. Many problems and injuries can give rise to cerebral palsy, from lack of oxygen to the baby during delivery to improper use of birthing tools. Most cerebral palsy cases (around 80% to 90%) are congenital, meaning they occur before or during birth. Some common causes include:

  • Birth complications
  • Negligence-related birth injuries
  • Placental rupture or detachment
  • Genetic mutations
  • Maternal infections during gestation
  • Traumatic brain injuries shortly after birth
  • Infant infections (such as meningitis)

Although doctors cannot always identify the specific cause of cerebral palsy, parents may be able to reduce the chances of this condition by avoiding risk factors. Premature births and low birthweights can contribute to the odds of CP, as can severe jaundice after birth. Choosing a physician who can properly take care of you and your child before, during, and after labor is key to avoiding birth injuries and potentially preventing cerebral palsy. If a negligent doctor causes your child’s CP, you may have grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Cerebral Palsy Prognosis and Treatment

Cerebral palsy currently does not have any known cure. However, it may be possible for people with cerebral palsy to improve their conditions and quality of life with treatments, surgeries, medications, and therapies. Some of the most common treatments for cerebral palsy are physical and occupational therapy. Most physicians recommend comprehensive treatment plans to improve mobility and communication, as well as to control pain and mitigate complications.

Many children with cerebral palsy live long, happy, and fulfilling lives. The support and love from family members and caregivers can go a long way toward improving quality and enjoyment of life. Proper medical care and prevention of health complications can also improve life for people with cerebral palsy, and increase the odds of a positive prognosis for the future.