Neurodevelopmental and Behavioral Pediatrics

Cerebral Palsy

Description

Cerebral palsy (sometimes called CP) is a term used to describe a group of conditions that affect body movement and muscle coordination. "Cerebral" refers to the brain and "palsy" to muscle weakness/poor control.

What Causes Cerebral Palsy

CP is caused by damage to specific areas of the brain, not by problems in the muscles or nerves.  This faulty development or damage to motor areas in the brain disrupts the brain's ability to control movement and posture.  The damage to the brain that causes CP usually happens during pregnancy, during birth or during early infancy.   

There are many factors that increase the risk of cerebral palsy.  These include infections a woman has when pregnant, certain serious infections in an infant, brain malformations, premature birth, stroke or intracranial bleeding prior to or shortly after birth, and traumatic brain injury.

How Many People Have Cerebral Palsy

The most recent CDC survey shows that cerebral palsy effects approximately 1 out of every 300 children.  Rates of CP are similar in boys and girls.

Associated Issues

  • Movement/mobility difficulties: Children with cerebral palsy can have varying abilities to move.  Some can walk independently or with a walker.  Others use a  wheelchair or require more assistance.  Some children have a great deal of arm and hand use, others require assistive devices or assistance from others.
  • Communication difficulties: Many children with cerebral palsy develop speech skills later than other children their age.  Some go on to develop typical communication abilities.  Others have difficulty communicating throughout their life and need to use assistive technology or other supports.
  • Learning:  Children with cerebral palsy have a range of intellectual abilities.  Some learn as quickly and well as other children their age.  Some have mild delays.  Others need significant support for learning throughout their life. 

Associated Conditions

Many children with cerebral palsy have other health complications.  It is important that these are recognized and treated.  A child with cerebral palsy who is physically healthy is more likely to do well in school and in other treatments.  This contributes to more independence, better daily functioning, and better quality of life.  Common health issues for children with cerebral palsy include:

  • Spasticity (muscle tightness) and other movement disorders (ataxia, dystonia, hypotonia)
  • Bone and muscle problems such as scoliosis, muscle shortening (contractures), club foot, hip dysplasia/dislocation
  • Seizures and other neurologic issues
  • Gastrointestinal issues including constipation, gastro-esophageal reflux
  • Vision and hearing problems
  • Skin breakdown
  • Sleep problems
  • Feeding and swallowing difficulties
  • Growth and nutrition problems

Cerebral palsy itself does not get worse over time.  However, how it affects a person may be different at different points in the person’s life.  Symptoms like muscle tightness can bet better, worse, or stay the same during the course of a person’s life.  Although cerebral palsy is not "curable" in the usual sense, treatment can help improve function and prevent complications.

Associated Behavioral Conditions

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

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