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Alternative Names Return to topSpastic paralysis; Paralysis - spastic
Definition Return to top
Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders involving movement, learning, hearing, seeing, and thinking that occur due to problems with brain development.
Causes Return to top
Cerebral palsy is caused by injuries or abnormalities of the brain. Most of these problems occur as the baby grows in the womb, but they can happen at any time during the first 2 years of life, while the baby's brain is still developing.
In some people with cerebral palsy, parts of the brain are injured due to low levels of oxygen (hypoxia) in the area. It is not known why this occurs.
Trauma and low oxygen levels during birth (birth asphyxia) is an uncommon cause of cerebral palsy.
Premature infants have a slightly higher risk of developing cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy may also occur during early infancy as a result of several conditions, including:
Types of cerebral palsy include:
Symptoms Return to top
Injury to the largest part of the brain (cerebrum) can lead to the loss of nerve functions in different areas. Many children with this condition have increased muscle tone (spasticity). Spasticity may affect:
Symptoms are usually seen before age 2. In severe cases, they may appear as early as 3 months.
Symptoms may include:
Exams and Tests Return to top
A doctor's examination may reveal:
The following tests may be performed:
Treatment Return to top
There is no cure for cerebral palsy. The goal of treatment is to help the person be as independent as possible.
Treatment requires a team approach, including:
Treatment is based on the person's symptoms and the need to prevent complications.
Self and home care include:
Putting the child in regular schools is recommended, unless physical disabilities or mental development makes this impossible. Special education or schooling may help.
Many adults are able to live in the community, either independently or with different levels of help. In severe cases, the person will need to be placed in an institution.
The following may help with communication and learning:
Physical therapy, occupational therapy, orthopedic help, or other treatments may also be needed.
Medications may include:
Surgery may be needed in some cases to:
Stress and burnout among parents and other caregivers of cerebral palsy patients is common, and should be monitored.
Support Groups Return to top
For organizations that provide support and additional information, see cerebral palsy resources.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Cerebral palsy is a lifelong disorder. Long-term care may be required. The disorder does not affect expected length of life. The extent of disability varies.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your health care provider if symptoms of cerebral palsy develop, especially if you know that an injury occurred during birth or early infancy.
Prevention Return to top
Getting the proper prenatal care may reduce the risk of some rare causes of cerebral palsy. However, dramatic improvements in care over the last 15 years have not reduced the rate of cerebral palsy. In most cases, the injury causing the disorder may not be preventable.
Pregnant mothers with certain medical conditions may need to be followed in a high-risk prenatal clinic.
References Return to top
Krigger KW. Cerebral palsy: an overview. Am Fam Physician. 2006;73:91-100.
Johnston MV. Encephalopathies. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 598.
Whelan MA. Practice parameter: diagnostic assessment of the child with cerebral palsy: report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology and the Practice Committee of the Child Neurology Society. Neurology. 2004;63:1985-1986.Update Date: 9/21/2008 Updated by: Jennifer K. Mannheim, CRNP, private practice in Autism Treatment and Research, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.