Cerebral Palsy (cont.)
Norberto Alvarez, MD
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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What other conditions are associated with cerebral palsy?
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Since cerebral palsy is indicative of damage to or malformation of the brain, it stands to reason that other symptoms that are associated with brain dysfunction can be present in children afflicted with cerebral palsy. In fact other disorders, besides the motor dysfunctions already described, are almost always seen in these patients. Some of them such as poor speech, swallowing disorders, drooling, and poor fine or gross motor coordination are the result of the motor disorder affecting specific muscles involved in those functions. Other conditions are the results of simultaneous injuries in areas of the brain besides the motor areas.
Cognitive disabilities, sometimes referred to as developmental delay, are often associated with cerebral palsy. Up to 50% of patients with cerebral palsy have cognitive disabilities. However, many of these children can be educated and lead productive lives. It is also just as important to note that many children with severe motor impairment due to cerebral palsy, as is the case with many children with the choreoathetotic or the diplegic form of cerebral palsy, are only mildly or not at all intellectually impaired.
Virtually all testing of a young child's cognitive development involves some sort of motor activity on the part of the child. If a child is capable of complex thoughts, but incapable of motor activity, the observer will not be able to detect his or her mental aptitude. Therefore, one must be very careful in assigning labels to patients with cerebral palsy. Certain features, however, are more likely to be associated with significant cognitive disabilities in the patient with cerebral palsy. These include extensive damage occurring on both sides of the brain, children with spastic quadriplegia, microcephaly (small head size), a documented genetic disorder, and a documented prenatal infection.
Seizures are a common finding in patients with cerebral palsy. Perhaps a third of all cerebral palsy patients have seizures. Seizures are caused by abnormal electrical activity of the neurons in the brain. The damaged or malformed brain is more prone to seizures. Moreover, cognitive disability is frequently associated with epileptic seizures.
The symptoms of seizures can vary depending on where in the brain they originate. Generalized seizures engage the entire cerebral cortex at once, while partial seizures only involve part of the cerebral cortex. Often, generalized seizures begin as partial seizures but spread throughout the brain rapidly. Generalized seizures may take the form of true convulsions ("grand mal"), in which the entire body jerks in a rhythmic fashion, or the form of absences ("petit mal"), which interrupt the patient's activities for a brief period, but does not cause a fall.
Other forms of generalized seizures can occur in the cerebral palsy patient. Atonic seizures cause the patient to slump suddenly to the ground or forward in their chair, resembling a marionette in which the puppeteer suddenly cut the strings. Tonic seizures are just the opposite and cause the entire body to suddenly stiffen. Both tonic and atonic seizures can result in drop attacks in which the patient falls to the ground, often resulting in injury.
Partial seizures may involve the jerking of the arm and leg on the same side of the body. Alternatively, they may be associated with strange sensory phenomena, such as flashing lights, or emotions, such as fear, depending on where in the brain the seizure occurs.
Vision deficiencies are frequently seen. Some of them, for example, strabismus ("lazy eyes") can be corrected by surgical procedures in the muscles of the eyes. Some can be corrected with eye glasses (that may be difficult to implement in non-cooperative children). In other children the visual deficiencies are the result of brain injuries to the areas of the brain that are associated with vision, rendering the child blind ("cortical blindness") even if the eyes themselves are perfectly normal. At the present time there is no treatment to improve this condition.
Children with cerebral palsy can have speech disorders of many types. Some, like poor word pronunciation (dysarthria), are the result of impairment of the peripheral mechanism of speech (poor lips, tongue, or palate coordination). In another circumstance there is brain injury in the gray matter of the brain that controls the central mechanism of speech (aphasia).
It is difficult for children with cerebral palsy to gain weight and they frequently have delayed growth. This is the result of several factors including feeding disorders, gastroesophageal reflux, and in some instances, for example, children with choreoathetotic disorders, excessive caloric consumption. On the other, hand obesity could be a problem in those children with cerebral palsy that have limited mobility.
Individuals with the choreoathetotic form of cerebral palsy might have compressed nerves or damage to the neck bones that can lead to damage to the spinal cord.
Reviewed by William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR on 7/2/2012
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