Cerebral palsy (also called CP) is a term for a group of disabilities that affect children in the first few years of life. Children who have CP have trouble controlling their muscles and coordinating body movements. They may have stiff or weak muscles, which can cause them to make unusual muscle movements. Babies who have CP may take longer than usual to start rolling over, sitting up, crawling, smiling or walking.
CP can be mild or severe. A child who has mild CP may have awkward movements but they may require little or no assistance. A child who has severe CP may not be able to walk, may have trouble speaking and may require lifelong care and assistance.
There are 3 types of CP:
Some children will show signs of more than one type of CP. This is referred to as a mixed form of CP.
The symptoms of CP usually do not get worse over time. Symptoms may include:
Children who have CP sometimes have other health problems. These can include problems with vision, problems with hearing or developmental delays.
The brain damage that causes CP can occur before the child is born, during birth or in the first few years of life. In most cases, CP is present at birth. Normally, the brain sends out messages telling the body exactly how to move and exactly when to move. Children who have CP have damage to the part of the brain that sends out these messages. This affects the way a child who has CP talks, walks and moves.
Certain infections, such as rubella or chickenpox, in the pregnant mother can increase the risk of brain damage in the developing baby and cause CP. Sometimes, a baby’s brain does not develop properly while in the womb, which can also lead to CP. Doctors don’t know for sure why this happens, but in some cases it can be associated with the mother’s exposure to certain toxic substances.
A difficult labor or delivery can cause CP. This can happen if there is a lack of oxygen in the baby’s brain during birth. Severe jaundice that is left untreated in newborns can also result in CP.
Children who have meningitis or viral encephalitis can also lead to CP. Meningitis causes inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Viral encephalitis causes inflammation of the brain.
CP has also been associated with brain injuries during the first few months or years of life.
Your doctor will look at your child's muscles, posture and reflexes. He or she will also ask you about your child's physical development. Your doctor may also order special tests, such as a CT scan or an MRI, to see if there is any damage to the brain.
There is no cure for CP. If your child has CP, your doctor will help you create a treatment plan that may include:
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff