Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a neurological condition caused by brain damage and it is the most common motor and movement disability of childhood.

Cerebral palsy causes a range of disabilities, from mild to severe. If your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, you need to know what to expect. Get the answers to all of your questions so that you can make informed decisions about diagnosis, treatment, therapies, and legal action.

What is Cerebral Palsy?

As an umbrella term, cerebral palsy refers to a group of symptoms and disabilities. They are all related but each child will have a unique and individual experience of cerebral palsy.

Some of the potential issues a child with cerebral palsy may face include:

  • Movement and walking disabilities
  • Speech difficulties
  • Learning disabilities
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Hearing or vision loss
  • Epilepsy
  • Emotional and behavioral challenges
  • Spinal deformities
  • Joint problems

Cerebral palsy affects over 500,000 people in the U.S. There is no cure, but treatments and therapies can make a big difference.

CP Quick Facts

  • Cerebral palsy is actually a group of neurological disorders and disabilities, not just one condition, and all can cause some degree of disability in movement, balance, and posture.
  • Cerebral palsy is the most common movement and motor disability in children. One in approximately 345 kids has CP.
  • About 80 percent of children with the condition have spastic cerebral palsy, which causes increased muscle tone.
  • More than half of children diagnosed with cerebral palsy can walk independently.
  • Most children with CP also have other conditions. Epilepsy is a common co-occurring condition.
  • The main cause of cerebral palsy is brain damage that occurs in a developing fetus or during birth.
  • Cerebral palsy is more common in boys than in girls.

What Causes Cerebral Palsy?

Brain damage is the cause of CP, but there are many different things that can trigger damage. [4] For this reason, the exact cause of cerebral palsy can’t always be determined. Possibilities include:

  • Poor brain development in the womb
  • Maternal infections or medical conditions
  • Disruption of blood flow to the developing brain
  • Genetic conditions
  • Ingestion of toxins or drugs during pregnancy
  • Damage to the head or skull during delivery
  • Complications related to premature delivery

Could My Doctor Be Responsible for My Child’s Cerebral Palsy?

Yes, it is possible that negligent medical mistakes caused brain damage during pregnancy or childbirth and lead to cerebral palsy. In some cases errors are not negligent and could not have been prevented; however, negligent mistakes that may be considered malpractice include:

  • Anything that deprives a baby of oxygen during birth
  • Excessively forceful use of forceps or a vacuum extractor
  • Failure to order a Cesarean section or perform one in time to prevent brain damage
  • Failure to monitor fetal development during pregnancy or distress during labor
  • Inadequate treatment of maternal health conditions during pregnancy

Types of Cerebral Palsy

There are four types of cerebral palsy:

1. Spastic Cerebral Palsy: Spastic cerebral palsy accounts for 75 percent of all cases. It causes increased muscle tone, known as spasticity and causes:

  • Delayed developmental milestones for moving.
  • Abnormal movements.
  • Movement inhibition.
  • Stiff and spastic muscles.
  • Difficulties controlling muscle movement.
  • Difficulties moving from one position to another.

Spastic quadriplegia impacts a child’s upper and lower limbs and body, severely restricting mobility.

Spastic diplegia only affects the lower half of the body. Many of these children can still walk with some impairments and may need assistive devices such as walkers.

Spastic hemiplegia affects one side of the body only, usually the arm more than the leg. Most children with hemiplegia can walk.

2. Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy: Dyskinetic cerebral palsy is the second most common type of CP. Symptoms include:

  • Dystonia, repetitive and twisting motions.
  • Athetosis, writhing movements.
  • Chorea, unpredictable movements.
  • Poor posture.
  • Painful movements.
  • Difficulty swallowing or talking.

3. Ataxic Cerebral Palsy: Ataxic cerebral palsy is the least common. It causes poor balance, limited coordination, tremors, and shaky movements that are difficult to control.

4. Mixed Cerebral Palsy: Mixed cerebral palsy causes symptoms characteristic of two or three of the other types. Spastic-dyskinetic cerebral palsy is the most common type of mixed CP.

How Do I Know if My Child Has Cerebral Palsy?

Some of the signs of cerebral palsy in an infant or toddler are:

  • Delays in movements and motor skills, such as holding head up, rolling over, sitting, crawling, and walking
  • Body parts that are too stiff or floppy
  • Favoring one side of the body
  • Scooting on the bottom instead of crawling
  • Inability to stand, even with support

Always consult your child’s pediatrician if you notice unusual symptoms, even if you aren’t sure they are caused by cerebral palsy. Early intervention is critical when helping children with cerebral palsy.

How is Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?

There is no single or simple test for cerebral palsy. It takes time and multiple tests and observations to get an accurate diagnosis and to rule out other conditions.

Your pediatrician can either make a diagnosis or recommend a specialist if you suspect your child has any issues with motor development, muscle tone, or coordination and balance.

When diagnosing cerebral palsy, doctors look for spastic movements, abnormal muscle movements, delayed development, and poor coordination.

Can Cerebral Palsy Be Prevented?

There is no foolproof way to prevent CP, but there are steps you can take to lower the risk:

  • Before pregnancy, eat well and have any pre-existing medical problems under control.
  • While pregnant, continue with these healthy habits and take recommended prenatal vitamins.
  • See your obstetrician for regular checkups throughout pregnancy.
  • Get screened for potential complications.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to predict when an infant will suffer brain damage due to negligence. The best you can do is choose your doctors carefully and advocate for your own healthcare and that of your child.

Can Cerebral Palsy Be Cured?

There is no cure for cerebral palsy, but it will also not get worse with time. This is not a progressive disease, and early therapies and treatments can reduce symptoms and disabilities while also improving mobility

How Is Cerebral Palsy Treated?

A variety of treatment options can improve symptoms and quality of life for babies and children. Many interventions can be started immediately after a diagnosis is given.

Medications: Various medications help control spastic movements, seizures, relieve pain, and manage other symptoms and related conditions:

  • Hearing deficits
  • Baclofen or other muscle relaxants
  • Diazepam
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Anticholinergics
  • Antacids
  • Stool softeners/laxatives
  • Sleep aids

Surgery: Surgery is a critical part of treatment for many children with CP. Surgical procedures may improve mobility or manage pain. Common procedures include tendon or muscle release, the repair of hip dislocations, and scoliosis surgery.

Therapies: Several different types of therapies are used for children and babies with cerebral palsy. They can improve physical, mental, social, and learning deficits. If started early, therapies for cerebral palsy can reduce impairment and lessen the risk of developing other associated conditions.

Common types of therapy used to help children with cerebral palsy are:

  • Hearing deficits
  • Physical
  • Occupational
  • Feeding
  • Aqua
  • Horse and animal
  • Music
  • Play
  • Behavioral
  • Speech/Language
  • Bowel program

What is the Life Expectancy for Cerebral Palsy?

Many children diagnosed with cerebral palsy have the same life expectancy as any other. This wasn’t always true, but earlier diagnosis and better therapies have improved many health conditions for these children.

While CP does not usually shorten life expectancy, it does require early intervention and good medical care for the best outcomes. This is especially true for those with severe disabilities.

Some of the conditions associated with cerebral palsy can be life-threatening if not treated. These include breathing and swallowing difficulties (which can cause pneumonia or malnutrition), seizures, chronic nutritional deficiencies, or life-threatening pressure infections.

Will Cerebral Palsy Cause Other Health Problems?

Cerebral palsy does not necessarily cause other conditions, but a number of health issues often co-occur with it. Many kids with CP have at least one co-existing condition:

  • Hearing deficits
  • Vision impairment
  • Seizures
  • Cognitive disability
  • ADHD
  • Behavioral, emotional issues
  • Feeding problems and nutritional deficiencies
  • Gastric reflux
  • Constipation
  • Scoliosis
  • Joint problems
  • Sleep disorders

What is the Prognosis for Cerebral Palsy?

The prognosis for cerebral palsy depends on individual factors, but except in severe cases, it is possible for most children to grow up to live a normal life. Many children with cerebral palsy have average or above-average intelligence and are mobile with or without assistance.

Most children with CP go to school with their peers. They may need special education accommodations, such as assistance with communication, hearing or vision aids, and speech and language therapy.

Most children with CP grow up to function as independent adults. Those with more severe disabilities may need lifelong care and supervision.

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