What is cerebral palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a neurological movement disorder characterized by lack of muscle control and impairment in the coordination of movements, caused by damage that occurs to the developing brain, most often before birth or in the first two years of life.
Cerebral palsy’s effect on functional abilities varies from person to person; some can walk and show normal or near-normal intellectual capacity while struggle with either or both.
What are the symptoms of cerebral palsy?
Movement and coordination problems associated with cerebral palsy include:
- Variations in muscle tone, such as being either too stiff or too loose
- Stiff muscles and exaggerated reflexes (spasticity)
- Stiff muscles with normal reflexes (rigidity)
- Lack of muscle coordination, involuntary movements
- Slow, writhing movements (athetosis)
- Delays in motor skills milestones, such as pushing up on arms, sitting up alone, or crawling
- Favoring one side of the body, such as reaching with only one hand or dragging a leg while crawling
- Difficulty walking
- Excessive drooling or problems with swallowing, sucking, or eating
- Delays in speech development or difficulty speaking
- Difficulty with precise motions, such as picking up a crayon or spoon
Brain abnormalities associated with cerebral palsy include:
- Difficulty with vision and hearing
- Intellectual disabilities
- Abnormal touch or pain perceptions
- Oral diseases
- Urinary incontinence
What causes cerebral palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a neurological movement disorder that can be caused by injury to the brain at birth, during the early stages of development in the womb, or during the first two years of life. In many cases, the exact trigger isn’t known.
Factors that may lead to problems with brain development include:
- Gene mutations
- Maternal infections that affect the developing fetus
- Fetal stroke, a disruption of blood supply to the developing brain
- Infant infections that cause inflammation in or around the brain
- Traumatic head injury to an infant
- Lack of oxygen to the brain related to difficult labor or delivery (rarely)
How is cerebral palsy diagnosed?
Typically, a doctor will evaluate the signs and symptoms of the patient, review medical history, and conduct a physical evaluation. Specific exams to diagnose cerebral palsy include:
- Cranial ultrasound
- Laboratory tests
What treatments are available for cerebral palsy?
Medications that can lessen the tightness of muscles may be used to improve functional abilities, treat pain, and manage complications related to spasticity or other cerebral palsy symptoms.
Anticonvulsant drugs are usually prescribed for seizures while Diazepam and other muscle relaxant drugs can sometimes relieve the tension of spastic muscles. Other prescribed drugs that act on the nervous system, such as Botox and intrathecal Baclofen, may help.
In some cases, surgery may be performed to lengthen and transfer tendons in patients who have severe muscle contractions.
Where can I find out more about cerebral palsy?