Cerebral palsy is a disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture that is caused by an insult to the immature, developing brain, most often before birth.
Signs and symptoms appear during infancy or preschool years. In general, cerebral palsy causes impaired movement associated with exaggerated reflexes, floppiness or rigidity of the limbs and trunk, abnormal posture, involuntary movements, unsteadiness of walking, or some combination of these.
People with cerebral palsy may have difficulty with swallowing and commonly have eye muscle imbalance. People with cerebral palsy may have reduced range of motion at various joints of their bodies due to muscle stiffness.
The effect of cerebral palsy on functional abilities varies greatly. Some people are able to walk while others aren't able to walk. Some people show normal to near normal intellectual function, but others may have intellectual disabilities. Epilepsy, blindness or deafness also may be present.
People with cerebral palsy often have underlying developmental brain abnormalities.
Signs and symptoms can vary greatly. Movement and coordination problems associated with cerebral palsy may include:
The disability associated with cerebral palsy may be limited primarily to one limb or one side of the body, or it may affect the whole body. The brain disorder causing cerebral palsy doesn't change with time, so the symptoms usually don't worsen with age, although the shortening of muscles and muscle rigidity may worsen if not treated aggressively.
Other neurological problems
When to see a doctor
Cerebral palsy is caused by an abnormality or disruption in brain development, usually before a child is born. In many cases, the exact trigger of this abnormality isn't known. Factors that may lead to problems with brain development include:
A number of factors are associated with an increased risk of cerebral palsy.
Other factors of pregnancy and birth
Muscle weakness, muscle spasticity and coordination problems can contribute to a number of complications either during childhood or later during adulthood, including:
Preparing for your appointment
If your child has cerebral palsy, how you learn about your child's condition may depend on the severity of the disabilities, when problems first appeared, and whether there were any risk factors during the pregnancy or delivery.
Your doctor may ask you several questions during appointments, including:
Talking to your doctor about cerebral palsy
Tests and diagnosis
If your family doctor or pediatrician suspects that your child has cerebral palsy, he or she will evaluate your child's signs and symptoms, review your child's medical history, and conduct a physical evaluation. Your doctor may refer you to a doctor trained in treating children with brain and nervous system conditions (pediatric neurologist).
Your doctor will also order a series of tests to make a diagnosis and rule out other possible causes.
The EEG records the electrical activity of your child's brain. If he or she has epilepsy, it's common for there to be changes in normal patterns of brain waves.
Treatments and drugs
Children and adults with cerebral palsy require long-term care with a medical care team. This team may include:
It's important to talk about the risk of drug treatments with your doctor and discuss whether medical treatment is appropriate for your child's needs. The selection of medications depends on whether the problem affects only certain muscles (isolated) or the whole body (generalized). Drug treatments may include the following:
Your child also may be prescribed medications to reduce drooling. Medications such as trihexyphenidyl, scopolamine (Scopace) or glycopyrrolate (Robinul, Robinul Forte) may be helpful.
Surgical or other procedures
Coping and support
When a child is diagnosed with a disabling condition, the whole family faces new challenges. Here are a few tips for caring for your child and yourself:
Most cases of cerebral palsy can't be prevented, but you can lessen risks. If you're pregnant or planning to become pregnant, you can take these steps to keep healthy and minimize pregnancy complications:
Last Updated: 2013-08-16
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