Cerebral Palsy

  • Medical Author: Norberto Alvarez, MD
  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Signs of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy literally means "brain paralysis." This term is somewhat of a misnomer and was coined over a hundred years ago to refer to a group of patients with abnormalities in movement and posture that occur from infancy and persist throughout life.

The signs of cerebral palsy are disturbances of movement and/or posture. These symptoms are usually noticed in individuals between the ages of 3 months to about 2 years old. This can manifest in infants as abnormal muscle tone (either too relaxed or too rigid), changes in resistance to passive movement of the body (either too much or too little resistance), poor crawling, and failure to meet appropriate developmental milestones (such as those involving head control, rolling, walking, and sitting).

Cerebral palsy facts

  • Cerebral palsy (CP) is an abnormality of motor function, the ability to move and control movements.
  • Cerebral palsy is acquired at an early age, usually less than a year of age.
  • Cerebral palsy is due to a brain abnormality that does not progress in severity.
  • The causes of cerebral palsy include prematurity, genetic disorders, strokes, and infection of the brain.
  • Taking certain precautions during the pregnancy might decrease the risk of cerebral palsy.
  • Asphyxia, the lack of oxygen to the brain, at birth is not as common a cause of cerebral palsy as had been thought.
  • There are different types of cerebral palsy based on symptoms -- spastic, hypotonic, choreoathetoid, and mixed types.
  • The best approach for diagnosis, treatment, and management is through and interdisciplinary team.
  • Cerebral palsy may be associated with many other medical conditions, including mental retardation or seizures. Many of these conditions can be treated with improved quality of life.
  • Many children with cerebral palsy have a normal intellect and have no seizures.
  • Treatment of cerebral palsy is for the symptoms only; there are few treatments for the underlying causes.
  • There are many alternative medicines promoted for the treatment of cerebral palsy that have never been proven to be helpful. Families and advocates of persons with cerebral palsy should be aware of the lack of scientific basis for these treatments.

What is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy (CP) is an abnormality of motor function (as opposed to mental function) and postural tone that is acquired at an early age, even before birth. Signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy usually show in the first year of life.

This abnormality in the motor system is the result of brain lesions that are nonprogressive. The motor system of the body provides the ability to move and control movements. A brain lesion is any abnormality of brain structure or function. "Nonprogressive" means that the lesion does not produce ongoing degeneration of the brain. It is also implies that the brain lesion is the result of a one-time brain injury, that will not occur again. Whatever the brain damage that occurred at the time of the injury is the extent of damage for the rest of the child's life.

Cerebral palsy affects approximately one to three out of every thousand children born. However, it is much higher in infants born with very low weight and in premature infants.

Interestingly, new treatment methods that resulted in an increased survival rate of low-birth weight and premature infants actually resulted in an overall increase in the number of children with cerebral palsy. The new technologies, however, did not change the rate of cerebral palsy in children born full term and with normal weight.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/17/2015

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