Cerebral palsy is a disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture that is caused by injury or abnormal development in the immature brain, most often before birth.
Signs and symptoms appear during infancy or preschool years. In general, cerebral palsy causes impaired movement associated with exaggerated reflexes or rigidity of the limbs and trunk, abnormal posture, involuntary movements, unsteadiness of walking, or some combination of these. The effect of cerebral palsy on functional abilities varies greatly.
People with cerebral palsy often have other conditions related to developmental brain abnormalities, such as intellectual disabilities, vision and hearing problems, or seizures. A broad spectrum of treatments may help minimize the effect of cerebral palsy and improve a person's functional abilities.
Signs and symptoms can vary greatly. Movement and coordination problems associated with cerebral palsy may include:
The disability associated with cerebral palsy may be limited primarily to one limb or one side of the body, or it may affect the whole body. The brain injury causing cerebral palsy doesn't change with time, so the symptoms usually don't worsen with age, although the shortening of muscles and muscle rigidity may worsen if not treated aggressively.
Other neurological problems
When to see a doctor
Cerebral palsy is caused by an abnormality or disruption in brain development, usually before a child is born. In many cases, the exact trigger of this abnormality isn't known. Factors that may lead to problems with brain development include:
A number of factors are associated with an increased risk of cerebral palsy.
Other factors of pregnancy and birth
Muscle weakness, muscle spasticity and coordination problems can contribute to a number of complications either during childhood or later during adulthood:
Preparing for your appointment
How you learn about your child's condition — if your child has cerebral palsy — may depend on how severe the disabilities are, when problems first appear, and whether there were any significant risk factors during the pregnancy or delivery.
Questions you should be prepared to answer during regular checkups might include the following:
Talking to your doctor about cerebral palsy
Tests and diagnosis
If your family doctor or pediatrician suspects that your child has cerebral palsy, he or she will order a series of tests to make a diagnosis and rule out other possible causes.
Treatments and drugs
Children and adults with cerebral palsy will require some degree of long term care with a medical care team. This team may include:
Surgical or other procedures
Coping and support
When a child is diagnosed with a disabling condition, the whole family faces new challenges. Here are a few tips for caring for your child and yourself:
Most cases of cerebral palsy can't be prevented, but you can lessen risks. If you're pregnant or planning to become pregnant, you can take these steps to keep healthy and minimize pregnancy complications:
Last Updated: 2010-11-13
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