Cerebral Palsy – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment
What is cerebral palsy?
A cerebral palsy is a group of neurological conditions that affect body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, posture, and balance. This condition is caused by brain damage. The brain damage is caused by brain injury or abnormal development of the brain that occurs while a child’s brain is still in development stage. This can happen before birth, during birth, or after birth.
Cerebral palsy is not curable but is not a life-threatening disease. It is permanent but nonprogressive.
What causes cerebral palsy?
Cerebral palsy is caused by injuries or abnormalities in the brain that occur prior to birth, during birth, or after birth. Cerebral palsy can also happen at any time during the first 2 years of life, while the baby’s brain is still developing.
In some people with cerebral palsy, parts of the brain are injured due to a low level of oxygen (hypoxia) in those areas. It is not known what causes this.
Prematurely born infants have a slightly higher risk of developing cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy may also occur during early infancy as a result of one or more of the following conditions:
- Bleeding in the brain
- Brain infections (encephalitis, meningitis, herpes simplex infections)
- Head injury
- Infections in the mother during pregnancy (rubella)
- Severe jaundice
What are the possible complications of cerebral palsy?
Cerebral palsy may lead to the following health complications:
- Osteoporosis (bone thinning)
- Joint contractures
- Hip dislocation and arthritis in the hip joint
- Injuries from falls
- Bowel obstruction
- Pressure Sores
- Pneumonia caused by choking
- Poor nutrition
- Seizures (in about 50% of cases)
- Reduced communication skills (sometimes)
- Reduced intellect (sometimes)
- Social stigma
What are the symptoms of cerebral palsy?
Symptoms of cerebral palsy vary between people depending on the type and timing of the injury to the developing brain. The symptoms may be very mild or very severe, may only involve one side of the body or both sides. The symptoms may be more pronounced in either the arms or legs or involve both the arms and legs.
Symptoms usually appear before a child is 2 years old. Sometimes symptoms begin as early as 3 months. Parents may notice a delay in their child reaching developmental stages, such as sitting, rolling, crawling, or walking.
There are several types of cerebral palsy. Some children have a mix of symptoms. Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type.
The symptoms of spastic cerebral palsy include:
- Muscles that are very tight and do not stretch. They may tighten even more over time.
- Walking abnormalities, such as arms tucked in toward the sides, knees crossed or touching, legs make “scissors” movements, walk on the toes.
- Tight and inflexible joints that do not open all the way (joint contractures).
- Paralysis (muscle weakness or loss of movement in a group of muscles).
- Symptoms may affect one arm or leg, one side of the body, both legs, or both arms and legs.
The following symptoms may occur in other types of cerebral palsy:
- Abnormal movements such as, twisting, jerking, or writhing of the hands, feet, arms, or legs while awake, which gets worse during periods of stress
- Unsteady walking
- Loss of coordination
- Floppy muscles, especially at rest, and joints that move around too much
The following brain and nervous system symptoms may occur:
- Learning disabilities despite normal intelligence
- Speech problems
- Hearing or vision problems
- Pain, especially in adults, which can be difficult to manage
The following eating and digestion symptoms may occur:
- Difficulty sucking or feeding in infants
- Difficulty chewing and swallowing in older children and adults
- Vomiting or constipation
The following other symptoms may also occur:
- Delayed growth
- Increased drooling
- Irregular breathing
- Urinary incontinence
How is cerebral palsy diagnosed?
The doctor will review symptoms and perform a full neurologic exam. The doctor will also conduct cognitive function tests in older people.
The doctor may perform some of the following tests if need be to rule out other disorders:
- CT scan of the head
- Electroencephalogram (EEG)
- MRI of the head
- Vision testing
- Hearing screen
- Blood tests
How is cerebral palsy treated?
There is no cure for cerebral palsy. Treatment largely depends on the person’s symptoms and the need to prevent complications. The goal of treatment will be to help the person be as functionally independent as possible.
Cerebral palsy treatment requires a team approach involving:
- Primary care doctor
- Rehabilitation physician
- Occupational, physical, and speech therapists
- Dentist (dental check-ups are recommended every 6 months)
- Social worker
The doctor may recommend the following self-care measures at home:
- Receiving enough food and nutrition
- Keeping the home safe
- Performing exercises recommended by the providers
- Practicing proper bowel care (stool softeners, fluids, fiber, laxatives, regular bowel habits)
- Protecting the joints from injury
The following are recommended to help with movement, communication, and learning:
- Walking Aids
- Hearing aids
- Muscle and bone braces
The doctor may recommend the following medicines depending on the requirement:
- Muscle relaxants to reduce tremors and spasticity
- Anticonvulsants to prevent or reduce the frequency of seizures
- Botulinum toxin to help with spasticity and drooling
The doctor may recommend surgery in some cases to:
- Control gastroesophageal reflux
- Cut certain nerves from the spinal cord to help with pain and spasticity
- Place feeding tubes
- Release joint contractures
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.