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Cerebral Palsy

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The group of physical disablitiy that causes problems with movement, balance and posture is called as cerebral palsy. The condition is permanent and occurs due to damage to the developing brain of the fetus during pregnancy or after birth. It is one of the most common childhood motor disability.

Cerebral palsy affects different people in different ways. It causes problems with the body movement, muscle coordination, muscle tone, posture and balance. Cerebral palsy may aso lead to problems with vision, hearing, speech, learning disabilities, epilepsy and intellectual impairments.

What is Cerebral Palsy?

The brain is called cerebral in medical terms. The term palsy means complete or partial loss of ability to move body muscles. Cerebral palsy (CP) is a blanket term that is used to describe complete loss or impairment to some extent of motor function. It is actually caused by brain damage due to brain injury or abnormal development of the brain. This damage can occur before birth, during birth or within a few months after birth.

Cerebral palsy is not life-threathing. Children with cerebral palsy live well into adulthood. Only in some cases, where there is serious damage to the brain, the condition is non-life-threatening. However, the condition is incurable. The damage is non-progressive, that means the injury will not cause further degeneration of the brain.

Cerebral palsy is a permanent condition as the brain cannot heal itself like other body parts. The condition is non-communicable, that is, not contagious. The condition is life-long with no cure.

Types of Cerebral Palsy

There are three types of cerebral palsy. These include:

  • Spastic cerebral palsy- In this condition, the patient suffers from stiffness and movement problems
  • Athetoid cerebral palsy- Here, the patient suffers from involuntary and uncontrolled movements
  • Ataxic cerebral palsy- The patient develops a disturbed sense of balance and depth perception

Children with cerebral pasly may find standing still very difficult due to loss of muscle control and coordination. Other motor skills like bladder, breathing, bladder and bowel control, eating, learning is also affected.

Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy

All the signs of the cerebral palsy are not visible at birth. These become apparent as the baby develops. The symptoms of cerebral palsy include:

  • When one picks up the baby, he/she will feel floppy, that is, low muscle tone
  • The baby will not be able to hold his or her head when it lies on its stomach or sitting position with support
  • The baby will show signs of muscle spasms or stiffness
  • Poor muscle control, posture as well as muscle reflexes
  • Will have problems feeding or swallowing
  • Excessive drooling
  • Problems with precise movements like picking up toys, spoon, etc.
  • Walking problems like wide gait, walking on toes, crouched gait
  • Will use more of one side of the body like dragging a leg or hand when crawling
  • Will not be able to sit up, crawling or roll over by 6 months, that is, delayed development

Symptoms in toddlers or children include:

Depending on the level of injury or severity of the cerebral palsy, toddlers or children will experience problems with their physical development. These include:

  • Inability to walk by 12 to 18 months
  • Inability to speak simple sentences by 2 years of age

A few children may develop neurological problems such as:

  • Vision or hearing problems
  • Intellectual impairments
  • Seizures
  • Oral diseases
  • Psychiatric conditions
  • Urinary incontinence

Causes of Cerebral Palsy

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Any abnormality, damage or disruption in brain development of the fetus can lead to cerebral palsy. In many cases, the cause remains unknown. Some of the causes that can lead to damage to brain development include:

  • Random mutation of genes that help in brain development
  • Severe infection in mother that passes on to the fetus
  • Fetal stroke that causes disruption of blood supply in the brain
  • Asphyxia or lack of oxygen during a difficult labor or delivery
  • Premature birth (less than 37 weeks)
  • Low birth weight
  • Multiple births
  • Intrauterine growth restriction
  • Inability of the placenta to provide oxygen and nutrients to the developing fetus
  • Blood type incompatibility between mother and baby
  • Traumatic brain injury to an infant after a fall or accident

Diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy

If the doctor suspects cerebral palsy in a child, the doctor will conduct a physical evaluation. A series of test will be conducted to diagnose the condition. These include:

  • Vision tests
  • Hearing tests
  • Speech delay assessment
  • Developmental delay assessment
  • Movement disorder assessment
  • MRI
  • Cranial ultrasound
  • CT scan
  • EEG

Treatment for Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is incurable. However, today the condition can be managed with various therapies. These therapies include:

  • Physical therapies
  • Occupational therapies
  • Speech-language therapies
  • Development therapy
  • Mental health assessment
  • Special education under a special education teacher
  • Social worker who assists the family finding various services and plan for the furture of the child

Medications that help reduce the stiffness of the muscles are used. Orthopedic surgery may be required in some cases to help reduce the severe contractures or deformities of the bones or joints.

It is very important to talk to the doctor and the condition of the child. There is much research going on to help children with cerebral palsy. Make sure the child receives therapies required to improve his/her quality of life and make them more independent. Cerebral palsy is not a progressive condition. Thus, the damage done is done, it will neither get worse or better with time. All one can do is reduce its implications and help the child live better.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: March 29, 2015