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Cerebral Palsy Fast Facts

Cerebral palsy is a neuromuscular disorder that affects movement, muscle tone, balance, and posture. It is caused by damage that occurs to the immature, developing brain most often before birth.

  • Centers for Disease Control estimates that an average of 1 in 323 children in the U.S. has cerebral palsy.

  • Patients with the most severe cases of Cerebral palsy may have only a 25% chance of living to age 30. Less severe cases have a much longer life expectancy.

  • Cerebral palsy often occurs in conjunction with other conditions, including epilepsy, intellectual disability, vision impairment, and an autism spectrum disorder.

Globally, approximately 17 million people have cerebral palsy.

What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a neuromuscular disorder that affects movement, muscle tone, balance, and posture. It is caused by damage that occurs to the immature, developing brain most often before birth.

There is currently no known cure for Cerebral palsy. It is treated with medication and therapies that help to alleviate symptoms. Each case of Cerebral palsy is different, and the disorder can affect the patient in a number of ways.

The disorder can be divided into four types:

Spastic Cerebral Palsy

This is the most common type of Cerebral palsy, affecting more than 70% of patients. This type is characterized by increased muscle tone (hypertonia) and stiff, tight muscles. People with spasticity may not be able to relax their muscles, leading to rigid joints.

Athetoid Cerebral Palsy

Also called dyskinetic or dystonic Cerebral palsy, athetoid cerebral palsy comprises up 10 to 20% of all cases of Cerebral palsy. It is most commonly characterized by uncontrollable movements.

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Affecting around 5 to 10 % of patients, this is the least common type of Cerebral palsy. The name comes from the root word “ataxia,” meaning “uncoordinated.” Patients with this type of Cerebral palsy have difficulties with balance and coordination. It is often diagnosed later in life than other types, usually after a child has reached 18 months of age.

Mixed Cerebral Palsy

Because forms of the disorder are caused by injuries to different areas of the brain, some patients may exhibit symptoms of more than one type of Cerebral palsy. The most common combination of symptoms is a blend of athetoid and spastic symptoms. Mixed Cerebral palsy accounts for 10% of all cases.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

What Causes Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is caused by an abnormality or disruption in brain development, usually before a child is born. In many cases, the exact trigger isn’t known. The type and severity of the symptoms depend in large part on the extent of the brain injury and when it occurred.

Factors that may lead to problems with fetal/infant brain development during or after pregnancy include:

  • Mutations in genes that cause abnormal brain development.
  • Infections in the mother’s body that affect the developing fetus.
  • Disruption of blood supply to the fetus’ developing brain.
  • Infections in the baby’s body that cause inflammation in or around the brain.
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain (asphyxia) related to a difficult labor or delivery. However, birth-related asphyxia is much less commonly a cause than historically thought.
  • A traumatic head injury to an infant from a motor vehicle accident or fall.

Additional pregnancy or birth factors may be associated with increased risk, although each factor may have a limited impact on its own:
Breech births. Babies with Cerebral palsy are more likely to be in a feet-first position (breech presentation) at the start of labor versus being headfirst.

Complicated labor and delivery. Babies who experience breathing or circulation problems during labor and delivery may have existing brain damage or abnormalities.

Low birth weight. Babies weighing less than 5.5 pounds are at higher risk of developing Cerebral palsy. This risk increases as the birth weight drop.

Multiple babies. Risk increases with the number of babies sharing the uterus. If one or more of the babies die, the chance that the survivors may have Cerebral palsy increases.

Premature birth. A normal pregnancy lasts 40 weeks. Babies born less than 37 weeks into the pregnancy are at higher risk of Cerebral palsy.

Rh blood type incompatibility between mother and baby. If a mother’s Rh blood type is incompatible with her baby’s, her immune system may reject the developing baby’s blood type. The mother’s body may start producing antibodies to attack and destroy her baby’s blood cells, which could cause brain damage.

Although the exact cause of a Cerebral palsy diagnosis is not always uncovered, it’s estimated that between 10-15% of cases arise as a result of medical malpractice. These cases are attributed to negligence that occurs when a hospital, doctor or other health care professional deviates from standards in his/her profession, thereby causing injury to a patient.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Is Cerebral Palsy Hereditary?

While Cerebral palsy is not a hereditary condition, researchers have discovered that certain genetic factors can predispose an individual to the disorder. There doesn’t seem to be a single gene mutation that causes Cerebral palsy, but certain environmental factors probably cause a number of genes to react in a way that causes the disorder. This is called “complex inheritance” or “multifactorial inheritance.” The complex interaction of multiple genes and multiple external factors may explain why Cerebral palsy can run in families, a condition clinically referred to as “familial recurrence.”

Although familial Cerebral palsy represents only about 1.6% of all cases, a parent who has a child with the disorder has an increased risk of having a second child develop the condition. In these situations, molecular tests can identify the susceptible gene.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Cerebral Palsy Detected?

Signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy appear during infancy or the preschool years. Cerebral palsy is typically suspected when a parent or caretaker notices developmental delays in skills such as rolling over, crawling or walking. The first sign that something is wrong often comes when a child doesn’t reach these milestones or exhibits unusual behavior when attempting these movements.

Signs and symptoms can vary greatly, but in addition to developmental delays, other early indicators can include:

  • Variations in muscle tone, such as being either too stiff or too floppy
  • Favoring one side of the body, such as reaching with only one hand or dragging a leg while crawling
  • Stiff muscles and exaggerated reflexes (spasticity) or muscle stiffness with normal reflexes (rigidity)
  • Lack of muscle coordination (ataxia)
  • Tremors or involuntary movements
  • Slow, writhing movements (athetosis)

Brain abnormalities associated with Cerebral palsy also may contribute to other neurological problems such as:

  • Difficulty with vision and hearing
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Seizures
  • Abnormal touch or pain perceptions
  • Oral diseases
  • Mental health (psychiatric) conditions
  • Urinary incontinence

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?

A Cerebral palsy diagnosis can be reached when symptoms are present and a brain injury is identified. Up to 70% of cases are diagnosed by a child’s first birthday. The more severe the symptoms, the earlier a diagnosis can generally be formed, with 43% of severe cases being diagnosed in the first months of life.

If your family doctor or pediatrician suspects Cerebral palsy, he or she will evaluate your child’s signs and symptoms, review your child’s medical history, and conduct a physical evaluation. A specialist trained in treating children with brain and nervous system conditions (pediatric neurologist) may also be referred.

Once initial symptoms or developmental delays are recognized, the child’s doctor will run a number of diagnostic tests, such as an MRI, CT scan, EEG or Ultrasound to identify areas of brain injury.

Testing may be done to identify other problems that are often associated with Cerebral palsy, including:

  • Hearing impairment
  • Vision impairment
  • Speech delays or impairments
  • Cognitive function
  • Movement disorders

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Cerebral Palsy Treated?

Although Cerebral palsy cannot be cured, treatments can improve the patient’s overall quality of life by managing symptoms and associated conditions.

Medications 

Various medications can help to manage pain, reduce spasticity, and control seizures. Some medications commonly used to treat Cerebral palsy include:

  • Baclofen. This drug provides long-term reductions in muscle spasticity.
  • Dantrium/Dantrolene. These medications are used to treat severe spasms.
  • Diazepam/Valium. These are general relaxants that can ease tension and may help with seizures.
  • Botulinum toxin (Botox). When injected directly into affected muscles, this medication can ease spasticity.
  • Flexeril. This muscle relaxant works by blocking nerve impulses sent to the brain.
  • Depakene and Dilantin. These drugs are used to treat seizures.

Therapies

Therapy is one of the most common and effective treatments for improving quality of life and boosting independence. It is most useful when blended with other treatment options.

Specialized therapies can also be helpful by providing practical solutions for common problems. A variety of options are available, depending on the individual’s symptoms and needs:

  • Speech therapy improves language skills and can help with eating and swallowing.
  • Physical therapy can improve mobility and coordination.
  • Occupational therapy helps an individual adjust to his or her home, school or work environment.
  • Behavioral therapy can help provide healthy coping mechanisms for emotional troubles.
  • Recreational/music therapies build social skills and provide a creative outlet.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How does Cerebral Palsy Progress?

Cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition, but it is not degenerative and will not worsen over time. Exact symptoms can change over a person’s lifetime. However, with treatment and therapeutic interventions, many children with Cerebral palsy can grow up and live independent and productive lives. With the assistance of professional caregivers and familial help, many more can live well into adulthood.

An individual’s longevity and quality of life will depend primarily on the severity of symptoms and their response to treatment. For example, a person with severe Cerebral palsy might use special equipment and might need lifelong care, whereas a person with mild Cerebral palsy might walk a little awkwardly, but might not need any special help.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How Can I Prevent Cerebral Palsy?

The causes of congenital Cerebral palsy aren’t fully known, which means that currently little can be done to prevent it. However, people can take proactive steps before, during and after pregnancy that might help reduce the risk of developmental problems, including Cerebral palsy.

Before Pregnancy:

  • Be as healthy as possible before pregnancy. Make sure that any infections in the mother are treated and health conditions are under control, ideally before you become pregnant.
  • Get vaccinated for diseases (such as chickenpox and rubella) that could harm a developing baby.
  • If assistive reproductive technology (ART) infertility treatments are used to conceive, consider options to reduce the chance of multiple births (twins, triplets, or more), such as transferring only one embryo at a time.

During Pregnancy:

  • Educate yourself about ways to ensure a healthy pregnancy, such as maintaining a healthy diet, getting enough rest, and being physically active.
  • Get early and regular prenatal care.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water to help reduce the risk of infections that might harm your developing baby.
  • Contact your health care provider if you get sick, have a fever, or have other signs of infection during pregnancy.
  • Get the flu shot. A flu shot can protect pregnant women and their unborn babies, both before and after birth, and have not been shown to cause harmful side effects.
  • A difference in the blood type or Rh incompatibility between mother and baby can cause jaundice and kernicterus. Women should know their blood type and talk to their doctor about ways to prevent problems.
  • If you are at risk for preterm delivery, talk to your doctor about ways to prevent problems.

After the baby is born:

Be diligent when it comes to child safety, especially the prevention of head injuries. Take the proper precautions such as using car seats, bike helmets, and safety rails on cribs or beds.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Cerebral Palsy Caregiver Tips

It is normal to go through a painful period of adjustment when your child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Here are a few tips that might be helpful:

  • Grieve the loss of the life you expected or dreamed about for your child. A Cerebral palsy diagnosis can alter the path your child’s life will take, and it is normal for you to struggle with that realization. Taking time to grieve can help you to begin to develop new dreams for the child you have.
  • Encourage independence. Focus on how achieving small tasks will help your child become more self-reliant, and thus more confident. For example, rather than hand your child an item, put it slightly out of reach so that he/she has to move to get it. Though it may take slighter longer, actions like this can stimulate movements and coordination, further building independence.
  • Advocate for your child. Your child’s team may consist of numerous doctors, therapists, and other medical professionals. As the treatment program moves from one practitioner to another, you are the common thread that will keep your child’s interests at the forefront. Be informed throughout the process, and make sure you’re completely comfortable with all actions taken. Speak up when you’re not.
  • Seek support. Whether it’s a therapist, support group, friends or family, it’s crucial that you have your own network of people to rely on and trust.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Cerebral Palsy Brain Science

Although the cause of cerebral palsy may vary from case to case, all cases seem to stem from an incident or injury that causes damage to parts of the brain that control movement. Scientists are trying to pinpoint the causes of these injuries in the hope of developing an effective treatment to prevent them.

The types of brain injury that are likely causes of Cerebral palsy include:

  • Damage to the brain’s “white matter.” This type of brain tissue helps to transmit signals from the brain to the rest of the body, and damage here could result in difficulties with motor control. Damage to the white matter is called periventricular leukomalacia (PVL), and a fetus’ brain seems to be particularly vulnerable to PVL between 24 and 36 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Abnormal brain development. A combination of genetic and environmental factors (infections, injuries, etc.) may cause problems in the development within the parts of the brain that control muscle movement.
  • Bleeding in the brain. A lack of proper blood supply to the fetus’ brain (a fetal stroke) can cause brain damage. A fetal stroke may be caused by the mother’s high blood pressure, a blood clot from bleeding in the placenta, infections in the mother, or abnormal blood vessel development in the fetus.
  • Oxygen deprivation. Brain damage can also occur when the fetus’s brain is deprived of oxygen for an extended period of time. This can happen as a result of the mother’s low blood pressure, injuries to the uterus or placenta, problems with the umbilical cord, or injury during delivery.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Cerebral Palsy Research

Scientists are working on several research projects to expand on what is known about Cerebral Palsy.  The research will improve knowledge about the factors that increase the risk for Cerebral Palsy, as well as the causes, and best treatments, and will aid people living with Cerebral Palsy and their caregivers.

We are currently gathering the information required to support projects.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

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