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Cerebral Palsy - Causes, Symptoms & Diagnosis

Cerebral palsy, or CP, is a classification of neurological disorders that affect movement, coordination, muscle tone and posture. Cerebral refers to the brain and palsy refers to weakness or difficulty using the muscles.

cerebral palsy children

Cerebral palsy is the leading cause of functional and developmental disability in children in the United States. While around 770,000 people in America live with CP each day, most of these are children.

Cerebral palsy occurs in approximately 2.1 out of every 1,000 births. Despite advances in childbirth practices and infant care, this rate has not changed substantially in almost 50 years.

While cerebral palsy affects muscle function and movement, it is not a disorder of the muscles or nerves. Rather, it is caused by damage to the parts of an infant’s brain that control muscle function. This usually occurs before, during or after birth.

Types of Cerebral Palsy

There are four main types of cerebral palsy:

  • Spastic CP results from too much muscle tone or tightness, causing stiff and awkward movement of the arms, legs or back. Children with this form often turn in or scissor their legs when walking. Spastic CP is the most common, accounting for approximately 50-75% of all cases.
  • Athetoid CP or dyskinetic CP involves slow, uncontrollable body movements and low muscle tone, making it difficult for the person to walk or sit still. This form often affects the entire body, and occurs in approximately 10-20% of all cases.
  • Ataxic CP is the least common form of cerebral palsy, characterized by clumsy, imprecise or unstable movements. Ataxic literally means incoordination, and is caused by damage to the cerebellum, the balance center of the brain. This type only occurs in 5-10% of all cases.
  • Mixed CP combines symptoms of any of the three main types, due to a mixture of high and low muscle tone. This can cause both stiffness and involuntary movements.

Some other classifications used for cerebral palsy include:

  • Diplegia - affecting only the legs
  • Hemiplegia - affecting one half of the body (such as the left arm and leg)
  • Quadriplegia - affecting both arms and legs, also may include torso and facial muscles

Disability from Cerebral Palsy

The level of disability caused by cerebral palsy can vary greatly. Some of those affected may walk near normal while others can’t walk at all. Some people with CP display normal to almost normal intellectual function, while others may have intellectual disabilities.

In addition, damage to parts of the brain that result in cerebral palsy can lead to blindness, eye imbalance, epilepsy, difficulty swallowing or deafness.

The disabilities resulting from cerebral palsy may be limited with early diagnosis, intervention and therapy.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Cerebral palsy is usually detected in infancy or the first few years of childhood by a developmental specialist. Unfortunately, there is no cure at this time. However, several treatment options are available to help those with the disorder reduce the effects. Usually, the earlier this treatment begins, the better chance of overcoming developmental disabilities and challenges.

Treatment of cerebral palsy often includes:

  • Physical and occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Medications for seizures, muscle spasms and pain
  • Surgery to correct abnormalities or release tight muscles
  • Braces and other orthotic devices
  • Wheelchairs and rolling walkers
  • Communication aids

Medical Complications Causing Brain Injury

While experts have stated a large portion of brain injuries causing cerebral palsy are of unknown origin, a small percentage of cases are attributable to complications that occur before or during birth. Often, this is due to oversight by medical providers.

These can include pre-natal infections, early birth, trauma during delivery, exposure to toxins, cutoff of oxygen sources and a fall in blood sugar levels.

Some reports suggest around 200 of every 1000 cerebral palsy-causing brain injuries are due to medical complications that could have been detected and stopped.

In the case of brain injury caused by the oversight of a medical professional, negligence of a healthcare facility or injury to an infant by a third party, parents may be able to recover damages to help with their care.

Each year, lawyers help hundreds of families file claims for cerebral palsy brain injuries, and the compensation can be substantial enough to help with lifetime care and treatment.

If your child has been affected by cerebral palsy, it is important to find out what help is available for them and your family.

It costs nothing to speak with a lawyer or file a claim. The CP Help Center works only with lawyers that specialize in complex medical and birth injury lawsuits.

Contact us today for more information on the causes, treatment options and research related to cerebral palsy, or to speak with a lawyer. We are available 24 hours a day to help.