Nutrition is important for everyone, but especially so for patients with cerebral palsy: according to ]]>4MyChild]]>, 35 percent of children who have cerebral palsy suffer from malnutrition. With malnutrition, patients do not get enough nutrients. Cerebral palsy patients can have symptoms that interfere in their eating, which may result in malnutrition. For example, during infancy, patients can have problems sucking; as patients get older, they can have problems chewing and swallowing, noted ]]>MedlinePlus]]>. Difficulties with drinking and eating can stem from poor muscle control of the tongue, jaw and mouth. Some cerebral palsy patients may breathe their food or beverages into their lungs. Patients may also experience constipation or vomiting, which can also affect nutrition.
Malnutrition can cause serious health problems for cerebral palsy patients. Michelle N. Kuperminc and Richard D. Stevenson, authors of ]]>“Growth and Nutrition Disorders in Children with Cerebral Palsy,”]]> explained that “the ill effects of malnutrition on physiology, motor function, neurological and psychological function are wide ranging and many be particularly devastating during early development.” For example, the authors noted that malnutrition can lead to reduced work capacity of the heart, decreased immune function and delayed cognitive development. Malnutrition can also contribute to poor growth. Cerebral palsy patients who suffer from malnutrition may have more severe gastroesophageal reflux, which can result in pain and bleeding.
Getting proper treatment for malnutrition is important. Kuperminc and Stevenson noted that a doctor will determine a patient's nutritional status through a physical examination and anthropometry, as well as the patient's medical and diet histories. After the evaluation, the child's doctor can determine a target weight. A nutritionist can help the patient's parents figure out the proper diet for their child. For example, the patient may need high calorie oral supplements or more feedings during the day. These dietary changes should only be done under the guidance of a medical professional. Treating malnutrition can also involve treating associated conditions, such as constipation.
For some cerebral palsy patients, they may require a feeding tube. Options include a nasogastric feeding tube, which is for short-term supplementation, and gastrostomy, which is for long-term supplementation. With the gastrostomy, the tube is placed in the patient's stomach, while with a nasogastric tube, the tube goes through the nose towards to the stomach. Children who need feeding tubes may also need to take supplements for protein and different vitamins and minerals.