What is Cerebral Palsy?

The term “cerebral palsy” describes chronic conditions affecting body movement and muscle coordination. "Cerebral" refers to the brain and "palsy" to muscle weakness or poor control. It is caused by damage to one or more specific areas of the brain, and this damage may occur during fetal development; before, during or shortly following birth; or during infancy.

Four Things You Should Know About Cerebral Palsy:

  1. Cerebral palsy itself is not progressive. It does not get worse over time. However, secondary conditions can develop which, over time, may get better, get worse, or remain the same.

  2. Cerebral palsy is not communicable. It is not a disease and should never be referred to as such.

  3. Currently there is no cure for cerebral palsy. However, there are a number of treatment options, such as therapy, orthotics, and surgery. These treatments should begin as early as possible through a management team of physicians, therapists, educators, nurses, social workers, and other professionals.

  4. Support services may be required. As individuals mature, they may require support services (e.g., personal assistance services, continuing therapy, educational and vocational training, independent living services, counseling, transportation, recreation/leisure programs, and employment opportunities). These are essential to the developing adult.

What are the Forms of Cerebral Palsy?

  • Spastic: This is the most common form (70-80%) with symptoms including tight muscles and awkward movements

    • Diplegia: Both legs affected (and possibly arms to a lesser extent)

    • Hemiplegia: One side (arm and leg) affected

    • Quadriplegia: Both legs and both arms paralyzed or weakened equally

    • Double Hemiplegia: Both arms affected more than the legs (uncommon)

  • Dyskinetic: (6%) Symptoms include involuntary movements

  • Ataxic: (6%) Symptoms include challenges with balance/depth perception, shaky movements

  • Mixed cerebral palsy: A combination of other cerebral palsy forms

Other impairments can include drooling, chewing/swallowing difficulties, bladder dysfunction, gastrointestinal issues, constipation, respiratory issues, sleeping, and pain.

What Causes Cerebral Palsy?

Any damage to the brain, whether caused by genetic or developmental disorders, injury, or disease, may produce cerebral palsy. This may be caused by numerous reasons including:

  • Insufficient amount of oxygen reaching the fetal or newborn brain. Oxygen supply can be interrupted by premature separation of the placenta from the wall of the uterus, awkward birth position of the baby, labor that is too long or too abrupt, or interference with circulation in the umbilical cord.

  • Other risk factors. Premature birth, low birth weight, RH or A-B-O blood type incompatibility between mother and infant, infection of the mother with German measles or other virus diseases in early pregnancy, and micro-organisms that attack the infant’s central nervous system. Most causes of cerebral palsy are related to the developmental and childbearing processes and, since the condition is not inherited, the condition is often called congenital cerebral palsy.

  • Head injury, usually the result of motor vehicle accidents, falls, or child abuse.

  • Other causes include drug addiction and brain infection.

Can Cerebral Palsy Be Prevented?

Measures of prevention are increasingly possible today. It is very important for women to optimize well-being prior to conception, receive adequate prenatal care, and protect infants from accidents or injury. Essential preventive measures include:

  • Routine testing and immunization of Rh factors for pregnant women

  • Immunization against measles

  • Prevention of premature births

  • Reduce exposure of virus and other bacterial infections to pregnant women

  • Avoid unnecessary exposure to X-rays, drugs, and medications

  • Control diabetes, anemia, and nutritional deficiencies

  • Jaundice treatment through phototherapy (light therapy) for newborns

Sources: What is Cerebral Palsy? - Your Questions Answered - A Publication of United Cerebral Palsy

Individuals with cerebral palsy CAN go to school, have jobs, get married, have children, and live independently. All it takes is opportunity and inclusion.