Cerebral Palsy

What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is an umbrella terms that refers to a group of disorders that affects a person’s ability to move and is caused by damage to the developing brain during pregnancy or right after birth.  The word “cerebral” refers to the brain’s cerebrum that is responsible for motor function and the word “palsy” describes paralysis of voluntary movement in a certain part of the body.

Cerebral palsy affects people differently and can affect muscle control, muscle coordination, body movement, balance, reflex, and posture.  These conditions of cerebral palsy can improve or worsen over time.  Infants who are born prematurely are at greater risk of developing cerebral palsy.  17 million worldwide are living with cerebral palsy.

What are the Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy?

Symptoms might vary according to the specific disorder in this category.

Symptoms include

General symptoms include problems with movement on one side of the body, drooling, delayed motor skill development, seizures, difficulty with speech (dysarthria), problems sucking or swallowing, stiff muscles, incontinence, exaggerated or jerky reflexes, involuntary movements or tremors, contractures (shortening of muscles), and lack of coordination and balance.

Cerebral Palsy Causes

Cerebral palsy is caused by a brain malformation or injury that occurs around the time of an infant’s birth. Cerebral palsy may be caused by a disturbance to brain cell migration. Brain cells may not be able to move to their necessary positions for proper functioning, thus leading to the development of CP. Specifics of the individual’s CP will vary, as will the causes of the condition. The timing of the injury, as well as the extent of the injury will slightly alter the specifics of the individual’s CP.

CP may be caused by internal bleeding during a pregnancy. Certain genetic conditions may also cause CP. If the blood flow supply to crucial organs is severed, CP may occur as a result. Additionally, a traumatic brain injury can lead to an infant’s development of CP.

Cerebral palsy which occurs before or during an infant’s birth is referred to as congenital cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy which occurs shortly after an infant’s birth is considered to be CP which an infant has acquired, and may be slightly different than congenital CP. Additionally, particular strains of bacteria may lead to CP when a mother is infected during pregnancy. The most common of these are chickenpox, measles, and herpes.

Aspects of an infant’s development which may be affected by the disruption to the brain include: muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance, as well as a child’s fine and gross motor skills, and oral motor functioning.

How is Cerebral Palsy Treated?

Newborn babies who have suffered brain injury due to a lack of oxygen around the time of delivery may be treated with cooling which involves lowering the baby’s body temperature with the goal of reducing the impact of the brain injury.  Women who are at risk of giving birth prematurely are given a single course of steroids which reduces the risk of their babies being born with cerebral palsy.

Sometimes expectant mothers are given Magnesium sulfate that can protect babies brains from injury that can cause cerebral palsy.

Cerebral Palsy Prevention

In some cases, cerebral palsy is preventable. Certain risk factors which increase an infant’s likelihood of developing CP can be prevented; however, others cannot. Resolving and treating certain health issues prior to pregnancy or early on in one’s pregnancy can prevent an infant’s chance of developing CP. Additionally, minimizing one’s contact with toxic substances – such as mercury, which is found in some types of fish – during pregnancy can reduce the likelihood of an infant developing CP. Reducing the likelihood of developing any kind of bacterial infection during pregnancy can also greatly minimize the chances of a child’s development of CP.

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Last Reviewed:
October 01, 2016
Last Updated:
November 29, 2017
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