What is cerebral palsy?
Cerebral palsy (CP) refers to a group of disorders that affect muscle movement and coordination. In many cases, vision, hearing, and sensation are also affected.
The word “cerebral” means having to do with the brain. The word “palsy” means weakness or problems with body movement.
CP is the most common cause of motor disabilities in childhood. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it affects at least 1.5 to 4 out of every 1,000 children worldwide.
What are the symptoms of cerebral palsy?
The symptoms of CP vary from person-to-person and range from mild to severe. Some people with CP may have difficulty walking and sitting. Other people with CP can have trouble grasping objects.
The symptoms can become more severe or less severe over time. They also vary depending on the part of the brain that was affected.
Some of the more common signs include:
- delays in reaching motor skill milestones, such as rolling over, sitting up alone, or crawling
- variations in muscle tone, such as being too floppy or too stiff
- delays in speech development and difficulty speaking
- spasticity, or stiff muscles and exaggerated reflexes
- ataxia, or a lack of muscle coordination
- tremors or involuntary movements
- excessive drooling and problems with swallowing
- difficulty walking
- favoring one side of the body, such as reaching with one hand
- neurological problems, such as seizures, intellectual disabilities, and blindness
Most children are born with CP, but they may not show signs of a disorder until months or years later. Symptoms usually appear before a child reaches age 3 or 4.
Call your doctor if you suspect your child has CP. Early diagnosis and treatment are very important.
What causes cerebral palsy?
Abnormal brain development or injury to the developing brain can cause CP. The damage affects the part of the brain that controls body movement, coordination, and posture.
The brain damage usually occurs before birth, but it can also happen during birth or the first years of life. In most cases, the exact cause of CP isn’t known. Some of the possible causes include:
- asphyxia neonatorum, or a lack of oxygen to the brain during labor and delivery
- gene mutations that result in abnormal brain development
- severe jaundice in the infant
- maternal infections, such German measles and herpes simplex
- brain infections, such as encephalitis and meningitis
- intracranial hemorrhage, or bleeding into the brain
- head injuries as a result of a car accident, a fall, or child abuse