Definition

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that make it hard for a child's body to control movement. It appears in the first few years of life.

Causes

CP is caused by abnormal development or damage to parts of the brain that control movement. This may happen before, during, or after birth.

Risk Factors

CP is more common in premature and low birth weight babies. It is also more common in multiple births, such as twins or triplets. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Infection in the membranes and fluid around the fetus
  • Injury to the brain from lack of oxygen
  • A bacterial infection in the blood of an infant
  • Inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord

Symptoms

Problems are different in each child. They may also change over time. The first sign is often when a child does not meet a milestone, such as rolling over. Signs often appear in children before 3 years of age.

These common problems may be mild or severe:

  • Problems swallowing
  • Moving the body without control
  • Stiff or floppy muscles
  • Problems walking or standing
  • Learning problems
  • Speech problems
  • Tremors

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your child's symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. The child's motor skills and reflexes will be tested.

Images of the brain may be taken. This can be done with an

MRI Scan
MRI of the Brain
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Treatment

There is no cure for CP. The goal is to help the child reach his or her fullest ability. A child will need care from pediatricians, specialists, physical therapists, and counselors. Common treatments are:

Rehabilitation Services

Speech, physical, and occupational therapy may help a child speak, move, walk, and do activities of daily living. Physical therapy also helps strengthen muscles and helps with fitness.

Physical Aids

Braces and splints may be used to ease muscle spasms and keep limbs in line. Walkers, scooters, and wheelchairs make it easier to move around.

Medicine

Medicine may be used to help ease symptoms, such as tight muscles.

Surgery

Some children may need surgery to help them sit, stand, and walk. These may be tendon transfers or lengthening, joint loosening, bone straightening, and nerve surgery.

Prevention

A pregnant mother may be able to lower the risk of CP by:

  • Getting medical care early and often
  • Managing chronic illnesses
  • Getting enough fluids
  • Not using alcohol and drugs

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kassir, MD
  • Review Date: 09/2019 -
  • Update Date: 01/09/2020 -