Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of chronic disorders that affect the ability to control movement. It appears in the first few years of life. Generally, the nerve damage does not worsen over time, but the muscle, joint, and skeletal effects can get worse without treatment.
CP occurs due to damage to areas of the brain that direct movement. This damage interferes with the brain's ability to control movement and posture. Other areas of the brain controlling thinking, speech, vision, or hearing may also be incloved. CP may develop before, during, or after birth.
Factors that increase the risk of CP include:
Symptoms of CP vary widely. They may include difficulty with fine motor tasks like writing or using scissors, difficulty maintaining balance or walking, difficulty hearing or speaking, muscle tightness, and involuntary movements . The symptoms differ from person to person and may change over time.
CP first shows up in children aged three years or younger. Symptoms vary depending on what areas of the brain are affected. The problems can involve 1 side of the body (hemiplegia), the upper or lower body (diplegia), or both the upper and lower body on both sides (quadraplegia). Occasionally the face and neck are involved.
Disabilities can be mild to severe and vary from side to side and top to bottom. Although symptoms may change or progress slightly as the child grows older, the child's condition is unlikely to worsen significantly, especially with treatment.
Some people with CP suffer from other medical disorders as well, including:
Doctors diagnose CP by testing motor skills and reflexes, looking into medical history, and using a variety of specialized tests.
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There is no treatment to cure CP. The brain damage cannot be corrected. Therapy aims to help the child reach his or her full potential. Children with CP grow to adulthood and may be able to work and live independently.
Drugs help control muscle spasms and seizures, and prevent bone loss.
Certain operations may improve the ability to sit, stand, and walk. These may include tendon transfers or lengthening, joint loosening, bone straightening, and nerve surgery.
Braces and splints help reduce muscle contraction, keep limbs in correct alignment, and prevent deformities. Positioning devices enable better posture. Walkers, special scooters, and wheelchairs make it easier to move around.
Programs designed to meet the child's special needs may improve learning. Some children do well attending regular schools with special services. Vocational training can help prepare young adults for jobs.
Speech, physical, and occupational therapies may improve the ability to speak, move, walk, and perform activities of daily living. Physical therapy helps strengthen muscles and improve fitness. Children can learn different ways to complete difficult tasks.
Professional support helps a patient and family cope with CP. Counselors help parents learn how to modify behaviors. Caring for a child with CP can be stressful. Some families find support groups helpful.
Therapeutic electrical stimulation might help increase muscle strength and range of motion.
Several of the causes of CP that have been identified through research are preventable or treatable:
Last reviewed August 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.