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October 14, 2020

What to know about cerebral palsy

Causes, symptoms, and treatment

Children's Health Cerebral Palsy

Content sponsored by IBC - Native (195x33)

Disabled child sitting in wheelchair. SbytovaMN/

One in 323 children is born with cerebral palsy, the most common motor disability of childhood. The symptoms of cerebral palsy (CP) become apparent in the first few years of a child’s life and continue into adulthood. Read on to learn more about CP, what to look for, and how the disorder is managed.

Where’s it come from?

CP is caused by brain damage, usually before or during birth. What causes cerebral palsy isn’t always known, but gene mutations, infections, brain bleeding, lack of oxygen, and traumatic injuries can all lead to abnormalities that cause CP.

There are a small number of CP cases that occur after birth. Head injuries or an infection such as meningitis are usually the causes of these rare cases.

What symptoms should I watch for?

The early signs of CP appear early in a child’s life. As babies, those with CP might be slow to roll over, crawl, walk, or hit other movement milestones. CP affects movement ability, posture, and balance throughout someone’s life; there is no cure. As a child with CP reaches preschool age, their impaired movement may also include floppiness or rigidity, abnormal posture, involuntary movement, or difficulty walking.

The symptoms of CP are very different from child to child. For some kids, CP is limited to stiffness or trouble with coordination. Others experience speech problems, learning difficulties, seizures, or mental health conditions.

Different types of CP

First things first: if your child is experiencing any movement problems or delays in development, you should see a doctor right away to determine if CP is the cause.

There are three kinds of cerebral palsy a person can suffer from.

  1. Spastic CP impairs movement and causes muscle stiffness. This is the most common form of CP and has widely varying degrees of severity.
  2. Dyskinetic CP causes uncontrolled movements and affects the entire body.
  3. Ataxic CP affects balance and coordination. This form of CP is not common.

What’s the prognosis for living with CP?

If your child is diagnosed with CP, they will likely need to receive treatment and will have to manage it for their entire life. Because there is such a range of severity in CP, treatments vary accordingly.

Physical therapy can help those suffering from CP with their balance and strength. Children can also learn how to use braces or splits (if needed) in physical therapy. Occupational therapy helps prepare children for school, and speech therapy helps with speaking and eating.

In some cases of CP, medications (such as injections or muscle relaxants) can help relieve symptoms. In some cases, surgeries to correct deformaties or address nerve function may be necessary.

How cerebral palsy unfolds is different for every child. In all cases, you will want to prepare children to live as full a life as possible—including transitioning them to adult care in their teenage years.

Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have, or suspect that you have, a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.

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