Cerebral palsy (CP) refers to a group of disorders that disturb muscle movement and coordination. In many cases, vision, hearing, and sensation are also affected.
The word “cerebral” means having to do with the brain. The word “palsy” means weakness or problems with body movement.
CP is the most common cause of motor disabilities in childhood. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it affects at least 1.5 to 4 out of every 1,000 children worldwide.
The symptoms of CP vary from person-to-person and ranging from mild to severe. Some people with CP may have difficulty in walking and sitting. Other people with CP may have trouble grasping objects.
The symptoms may become aggressive or less severe over time. They also vary depending on the part of the brain that was affected.
Some of the more common signs include:
- Delay in reaching motor skill milestones, such as rolling over, sitting up alone, or crawling
- Variations in muscle tone, such as being too floppy or too stiff
- Delay in speech development and difficulty speaking
- Spasticity, or stiff muscles and exaggerated reflexes
- Ataxia, or a lack of muscle coordination
- Tremors or involuntary movements
- Excessive drooling and problems with swallowing
- Difficulty walking
- Favouring one side of the body, such as reaching with one hand
- neurological problems, such as seizures, intellectual disabilities, and blindness
Most children are born with CP, but they may not show signs of a disorder until months or years later. Symptoms usually appear before a child reaches age 3 or 4.
Call your doctor if you suspect your child has CP. Early diagnosis and treatment are very important.
Causes of cerebral palsy
Abnormal brain development or injury to the developing brain can cause CP. The damage affects the part of the brain that controls body movement, coordination, and posture.
The brain damage usually occurs before birth, but it can also happen during birth or the first years of life. In most cases, the exact cause of CP isn’t known. Some of the possible causes include:
- Asphyxia neonatorum, or a lack of oxygen to the brain during labor and delivery
- Gene mutations that result in abnormal brain development
- Severe jaundice in the infant
- Maternal infections, such German measles and herpes simplex
- Brain infections, such as encephalitis and meningitis
- Intracranial hemorrh age, or bleeding into the brain
- Head injuries as a result of a car accident, a fall, or child abuse
Types of cerebral palsy
There are different types of CP that affect various parts of the brain. Each type causes specific movement disorders. The types of CP are:
Spastic Cerebral Palsy
Spastic CP is the most common type of CP, affecting approximately 80 percent of people with CP. It causes stiff muscles and exaggerated reflexes, making it difficult to walk.
Many people with spastic CP have walking abnormalities, such as crossing their knees or making scissorlike movements with their legs while walking. Muscle weakness and paralysis may also be present.
The symptoms can affect the entire body or just one side of the body.
Dyskinetic cerebral palsy
People with Dyskinetic CP have trouble controlling their body movements. The disorder causes involuntary, abnormal movements in the arms, legs, and hands.
In some cases, the face and tongue are also affected. The movements can be slow and writhing or rapid and jerky. They can make it difficult for the affected person to walk, sit, swallow, or talk.
Hypotonic cerebral palsy
Hypotonic CP causes diminished muscle tone and overly relaxed muscles. The arms and legs move very easily and appear floppy, like a rag doll.
Babies with this type of CP have little control over their head and may have trouble breathing. As they grow older, they may struggle to sit up straight as a result of their weakened muscles. They can also have difficulty speaking, poor reflexes, and walking abnormalities.
Ataxic cerebral palsy
Ataxic CP is the least common type of CP. Ataxic CP is characterized by voluntary muscle movements that often appear disorganized, clumsy, or jerky.
People with this form of CP usually have problems with balance and coordination. They may have difficulty walking and performing fine motor functions, such as grasping objects and writing.
Mixed cerebral palsy
Some people have a combination of symptoms from the different types of CP. This is called mixed CP.
In most cases of mixed CP, people experience a mix of spastic and dyskinetic CP.