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Definition of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a universal term describing a collection of chronic and non-progressive neurological symptoms, which causes impaired control of the body’s movements, balance and posture. The resulting impairments first appear early in life, usually in infancy or early childhood. Infants with cerebral palsy are usually slow to reach developmental milestones such as rolling over, sitting, crawling, and walking. The development of the brain starts in the early stages of pregnancy and keeps on developing until about the age of three. Any kind of damage to the brain during this period may result in Cerebral palsy.Cerebral palsy is caused by the damage to one or more particular areas of the brain. At its most severe state Cerebral palsy may result in virtually no muscle control at all, while intensely affecting the movement and speech of the person.

Many individuals with cerebral palsy have normal or above average intelligence. Their ability to express their intelligence may be limited by difficulties in communicating. All children with cerebral palsy, regardless of intelligence level, are able to improve their abilities substantially with appropriate interventions. Most children with cerebral palsy require significant medical and physical care, including physical, occupational, and speech/swallowing therapy.

Despite advances in medical care, cerebral palsy remains a significant health problem. The number of people affected by cerebral palsy has increased over time. This may be because more and more premature infants are surviving. In the United States, about 2-3 children per 1000 have cerebral palsy. As many as 1,000,000 people of all ages are affected. Cerebral palsy affects both sexes and all ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy

The symptoms of Cerebral palsy cannot be observed at birth however some symptoms of Cerebral palsy usually come to the forefront within eighteen months of the birth of the child. Some of the earliest indications of Cerebral palsy in an infant includes abnormal muscle tone or reduced muscle tone. Some of the obvious symptoms and signs of Cerebral palsy include:

  • Abnormal muscle tone - Muscles may be very stiff (spastic) or unusually relaxed and "floppy." Limbs may be held in unusual or awkward positions. For example, spastic leg muscles may cause legs to cross in a scissor-like position.
  • Abnormal movements - Movements may be unusually jerky or abrupt, or slow and writhing. They may appear uncontrolled or without purpose.
  • Skeletal deformities - People who have cerebral palsy on only one side may have shortened limbs on the affected side. If not corrected by surgery or a device, this can lead to tilting of the pelvic bones and scoliosis (curvature of the spine).
  • Joint contractures - People with spastic cerebral palsy may develop severe stiffening of the joints because of unequal pressures on the joints exerted by muscles of differing tone or strength.
  • Mental retardation - Some, although not all, children with cerebral palsy are affected by mental retardation. Generally, the more severe the retardation, the more severe the disability overall.
  • Seizures - About one third of people with cerebral palsy have seizures. Seizures may appear early in life or years after the brain damage that causes cerebral palsy. The physical signs of a seizure may be partly masked by the abnormal movements of a person with cerebral palsy.
  • Speech problems - Speech is partly controlled by movements of muscles of the tongue, mouth, and throat. Some individuals with cerebral palsy are unable to control these muscles and thus cannot speak normally.
  • Swallowing problems - Swallowing is a very complex function that requires precise interaction of many groups of muscles. People with cerebral palsy who are unable to control these muscles will have problems sucking, eating, drinking, and controlling their saliva. They may drool. An even greater risk is aspiration, the inhalation into the lungs of food or fluids from the mouth or nose. This can cause infection or even suffocation.
  • Hearing loss - Partial hearing loss is not unusual in people with cerebral palsy. The child may not respond to sounds or may have delayed speech.
  • Vision problems - Three quarters of people with cerebral palsy have strabismus, which is the turning in or out of one eye. This is due to weakness of the muscles that control eye movement. These people are often nearsighted. If not corrected, strabismus can lead to more severe vision problems over time.
  • Dental problems - People with cerebral palsy tend to have more cavities than usual. This results from both defects in tooth enamel and difficulties brushing the teeth.
  • Bowel and/or bladder control problems - These are caused by lack of muscle control.

It is quite difficult to identify Cerebral palsy until the children begin to reach certain development milestones.  Nevertheless, specific kinds of Cerebral palsy do provide some early indications. While normally an infant gets affected with either hypotonia or hypertonia occasionally an infant may endure an early attack of hypotonia just to take a step forward to hypertonia after a few months.

The symptoms of Cerebral palsy vary from one person to the other and it may even change in due course in the individual. Some people suffering from Cerebral palsy also get affected by some other medical disorders like seizures and mental impairment.

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Article Last Updated: 08/26/2015