What Are the Early Signs of Cerebral Palsy
Early signs of cerebral palsy in a child include developmental delays, abnormal appearance, floppy or stiff muscle tone, abnormal posture, and convulsions

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that affect movement, balance, muscle tone, and posture. It is associated with exaggerated reflexes, floppiness of the limbs and trunk, involuntary movements, and unusual posture or walking.

Early signs of cerebral palsy in a child include:

  • Developmental delays, such as rolling over, sitting, crawling, and walking
  • Abnormal appearance where the head appears too large or too small for the body
  • Abnormal muscle tone where parts of the body are too stiff or too floppy
  • Abnormal posture where the baby uses one side of the body more than the other
  • Convulsions

What are the signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy?

Signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy vary widely from one person to another, but the most common symptoms include:

  • Stiff muscles and exaggerated reflexes
  • Change in muscle tone
  • Lack of balance and muscle coordination
  • Delay in motor skill development
  • Delay in speech development
  • Trouble with sucking, biting, or eating
  • Excessive drooling or issues with swallowing
  • Learning difficulties
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Delayed growth

What causes cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is caused by abnormal brain development, but in most cases the exact cause is unknown as brain development is affected by a variety of factors:

  • Genetic mutations that cause disorders or changes in brain development
  • Maternal infections that can influence the developing baby (TORCH complex: toxoplasmosis, rubella, cytomegalovirus, herpes)
  • Fetal stroke that disrupts blood supply to the developing fetus’ brain
  • Birth trauma that results in bleeding in the brain of the unborn or newborn baby
  • Infection that causes inflammation and other problems in and around the brain
  • Severe head injury to the newborn
  • Lack of oxygen supply to the brain due to difficult labor or delivery

How is cerebral palsy diagnosed?

If a pediatrician suspects a child to have cerebral palsy, they will assess their symptoms, screen their developmental milestones, ask about medical history, and conduct a physical examination. Tests may be ordered to rule out other conditions:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging uses radio waves and a magnetic field to produce three-dimensional or cross-sectional pictures of the cerebrum.
  • Cranial ultrasound during infancy uses high-frequency sound waves to generate images of the brain.
  • Blood, urine, or skin tests assess the presence of genetic or metabolic disorders.

If CP is diagnosed, other tests may be ordered to detect other conditions associated with the disorder. These tests include:

  • Vision
  • Hearing
  • Speech
  • Intellect
  • Development
  • Movement


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Medically Reviewed on 12/20/2021
Image Source: iStock Images

Abdel-Hamid HZ. Cerebral Palsy. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1179555-overview