What Symptoms are Associated With Cerebral Palsy?

baby toysCerebral palsy is a lifelong medical condition that can affect a person's motor movement, including his or her ability to move independently. Symptoms of the condition can vary widely depending on the severity of the disease and the area of the brain affected. Several kinds of cerebral palsy exist that may also affect the symptoms and their severity.

Some cases of cerebral palsy are very mild, and with proper intervention symptoms may be imperceptible to the untrained eye. On the other hand, some cases of cerebral palsy are extremely severe and can affect a person's independence for a lifetime. However, children with cerebral palsy present with a similar set of symptoms that may clue parents into a potential issue needing medical attention.

Generally, the first symptoms of cerebral palsy appear within the first few months of life. Even in mild cases, parents notice certain signs of an issue before a child's second birthday, though a diagnosis can be as late as four or five years of age.

Early Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy

Parents generally notice the first symptoms of cerebral palsy between 3 months and 2 years, as babies and toddlers may fail to meet milestones at the expected rate of development. Some of the first signs include:

  • Muscle spasticity (hypertonia)
  • A baby that appears floppy or loose (hypotonia)
  • Delay in motor milestones such as rolling over, sitting unsupported, or walking
  • Difficulty controlling head (after 2 months of age - or 2 months from due date in the case of premature infants)
  • Reaching for toys with only one hand, while keeping the other balled in a fist
  • Favoring one side of the body over the other
  • Inability to stand without support in children over the age of 12 months
Symptoms as a Child Develops

While cerebral palsy is a non-progressive disease, parents may notice more symptoms that present as a child develops. As expectations for children become more advanced, parents may notice more developmental delays. For example, children with cerebral palsy may have a speech delay or suffer from speech disorders as the result of neurological damage. Parents should speak to their healthcare provider if their child is not making simple, spontaneous sentences by 24 months of age.

When cerebral palsy is linked to brain damage, parents often notice other symptoms such as hearing or vision loss, cognitive delays, and seizures. When cerebral palsy is associated with neurological issues such as fetal stroke, parents may also note that a child has:

  • Abnormal perceptions to pain or touch
  • Mental conditions
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Oral diseases

Cerebral palsy may be primarily isolated to one limb or one side of the body, or it may affect both sides equally. While the symptoms generally will not change with time, people may notice a worsening of muscle rigidity or shortening without proper treatment (such as physical therapy).

When to Seek Help

Cerebral palsy is a medical condition that can vary widely in severity and the part of the body affected. Movement delays and failure to meet expected motor milestones are often the first indication of a problem. Parents and healthcare providers both play a valuable role in screening for and identifying the presence of any medical condition that may affect a child's development.

It's essential for children with cerebral palsy to receive a prompt diagnosis so they can begin a comprehensive treatment plan that improves health outcomes. Parents should seek medical advice if they notice any spastic or rigid movements, seizure activity, difficulty swallowing, or impaired coordination. The sooner parents intervene and seek treatment, the more likely a child is to lead a productive, happy life.