What is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is defined by a number of neurological conditions, which usually develop in the brain of a baby when it is either very young, newly born or still in the womb. This abnormal development causes damage to the brain, leading to problems with movement, posture and coordination as the child grows up.

What causes it?

Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to a part of the brain called the cerebrum, which controls the body’s muscles. The damage has a negative effect on the muscles and can inhibit their function.

In the past the condition was associated with problems during labour and birth, but now it is generally accepted these cause only around one in ten cases. Most cases occur due to damage to the brain before the child is born. This may occur due to:

  • A child with cerebral palsy being examined

    Periventricular leukomalacia (PVL) – this is damage caused to the white matter of the brain, which in turn may be caused by a reduction in the child’s blood supply. An infection, such as rubella, caught by the mother during pregnancy, the mother having low blood pressure, premature birth or the mother using cocaine during pregnancy could all lead to the child’s brain being damaged.

  • Abnormal brain development – this could be caused by gene alterations that help the brain develop, infections such as Herpes or trauma to the unborn baby’s head.
  • Intracranial haemorrhage – meaning bleeding in the brain. This normally occurs when the unborn baby has a stroke (brought on by pre-existing weakenesses in the baby’s blood vessels, the mother’s high blood pressure, infection during pregnancy).
  • Damage after birth – lack of developed resistance to infections such as Meningitis can sometimes lead to brain damage in very early life.

What are the symptoms?

Cerebral palsy is divided into several different categories due to its varied symptoms. These include:

  • Spastic cerebral palsy – this affects around 70% of cases and is defined by some muscles becoming tight, weak and stiff, making control of movement difficult.
  • Ataxic cerebral palsy – here, problems include difficulty balancing, shaky movements of hands or feet, and speech problems.
  • Athetoid (dyskinetic) cerebral palsy – affects 10% of cases, whereby control of muscles is disrupted by spontaneous and unwanted irregular writhing movements. These may be the result of muscles changing very rapidly from being loose and to tight and tense. The muscles used for speech may also be affected, interfering with communication. Control of posture is also disrupted.
  • Mixed cerebral palsy – a combination of two or more of the above.

[adsense]The cerebrum (the part of the brain that is damaged) also partly controls sight, hearing and communcation ability, so those suffering from cerebral palsy can sometimes also experience:

  • Learning difficulties
  • Problems speaking or understanding others
  • Visual or hearing impairment

It has also been linked with other conditions, which sufferers often experience alongside cerebral palsy, such as Epilepsy, scoliosis and incontinence.

How is it treated?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for cerebral palsy, but there are many treatments and therapies available to manage the condition. The patient and his or her family usually work very closely with health professionals to find the best way to deal with it. Physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy can also play important roles. Medication is available to relax particularly stiff muscles and surgical procedures have been developed to help combat feeding and drooling problems.

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Images: Wikipedia and cerebral-palsy.me

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