Cerebral palsy is named, quite literally, for the two areas affected: the brain (cerebral) and the symptoms seen in the body (palsy, meaning a lack of control- often with muscles). Essentially, the brain has a problem with telling the body what to do so the body tends to lack control. A person with this condition can also have mental impairment but that's not always the case. There are no sure-fire circumstances that cause cerebral palsy which means there's no way to prevent it completely, although some preventative steps can be made to ensure the healthiest birth possible.
CP can occur for several reasons.
A brain malfunction or brain hemorrhage as the baby grows in the womb can cause cerebral palsy.
Mothers who use certain medications, smoke or have an accident or seizure while pregnant can also risk having a baby that develops this condition. Other risk factors include the mother being under the age of 18 or over the age of 34 and not having proper prenatal care. It's important that pregnant women take good care of their bodies.
There are also events that happen at birth that can cause a child to develop cerebral palsy - often events that could have been prevented (something like having a C-section or actually not having one, depending on the circumstances, or failure to intervene during delayed labor), which is why daytime television commercials are filled with lawyers offering their services to the parents of babies and children with the condition.
Infections of the mother or child during pregnancy or birth, like herpes or measles can be a cause. Bacterial infections are also a cause. Premature births and low weight babies also see an increased risk.
A child born with no health issues can also be affected through ill-treatment (especially Shaken Baby Syndrome that causes brain damage), accidents that affect the brain or illnesses like meningitis.
All prospective or soon-to-be parents can view a detailed checklist, especially made for cerebral palsy. It can be found at the My Child With Cerebral Palsy website. New parents should look for symptoms like lack of movement, poor muscle control or slow/little physical development. Regular newborn checkups and physical interactions with babies and young children are highly recommended. Understanding signs and symptoms is important -- something the KidsHealth/Cerebral Palsy website can help with.
Once a child has been diagnosed, there are treatments available and the good news is that this condition generally doesn't get worse, but remains the same through life. There is no cure for Cerebral Palsy as of now.
Treatments include special education for those with mental impairment. Physical therapy can also help to make moving, walking and eating easier. Speech therapy can help a person express herself better. Braces, walking aids, wheelchairs and scooters can help a person get around. People with cerebral palsy are considered disabled and are entitled to special provisions as a result, including parking, transportation help and other rights.
There are also medications that can help with movement and also help prevent seizures. From EmpowHER's Cerebral Palsy Treatment page, they can include:
Botulinum toxin or implantable pumps to deliver the medication baclofen — may be used for spasticity (increased muscle tone)
Glycopyrrolate (eg, Robinul) — may help with drooling
Pamidronate (eg, Aredia) — may help with osteoporosis
A child living with cerebral palsy but has no further complications and is well-cared for can expect to live to normal life expectancy. If further complications occur or other non-related conditions develop, life expectancy may be shortened.
Sources (and for further information) :
Cerebral Palsy. My Child With Cerebral Palsy. Checklist for Parents to Help Prevent Cerebral Palsy. Web. Aug 31. 2011 http://mychildwithcp.com/about/cerebral-palsy-risk-factors/the-risk-factor-checklist
Cerebral Palsy. Diagnosis, Prevention and Symptoms. KidsHealth from Nemors.Web. Aug 31. 2011
Reviewed August 31, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith