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Understanding Cerebral Palsy: A Primer for Patients and Caregivers

Updated: May 26, 2023

Cere means brain and Palsy refers to weakness

Cerebral palsy (CP) is when someone has trouble controlling their muscles and balance. It can cause problems with moving their body the way they want to. It's a group of different disorders that can affect muscle movement. Cerebral palsy starts in the part of the brain that manages muscle movements. Cerebral palsy happens when the part of the brain responsible for controlling movement doesn't grow the right way, or when it's hurt shortly after someone is born or very early in life.

Cerebral palsy can cause mild muscle control problems or be so severe that a person cannot walk. Some people with CP struggle to speak. Others have intellectual disabilities, while the majority of people are intelligent. Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common motor and movement disability in children, and it is caused by brain damage.

It's crucial to have an understanding of what to expect or what may occur if your child has cerebral palsy. Get answers to all of your questions so you can make educated decisions about your diagnosis, treatment, therapies, and legal options.

Causes of Cerebral palsy

The primary reason behind CP is brain damage. However, there are many factors that can be held responsible for neurological impairment, and the exact cause of CP is not always known. Possibilities include:

  • Poor brain development in the womb

  • Maternal infections or medical conditions

  • Disruption of blood flow to the developing brain

  • Genetic conditions

  • Toxin or drug consumption during pregnancy

  • Head or skull damage during delivery

  • Premature delivery complications

At times, brain damage caused by reduced blood flow as a result of medical negligence at the time of delivery or during pregnancy can also lead to CP. At the time of delivery, prolonged use of forceps or vacuum extractors or inability to perform a cesarean procedure in time might also result in a low oxygen supply leading to CP.

Research suggests a large number of reported cases of cerebral palsy cases are found to be congenital. Congenital CP refers to cases caused by brain damage or atypical brain development before or during birth, or during the first month of life. Acquired cerebral palsy refers to cases where the condition develops at a later stage in life. Two of the leading causes of acquired cerebral palsy are injury and infection.

In children delays in achieving developmental milestones like rolling over, sitting up, standing, walking or anything that is linked to muscle strength is an indication of CP.

Babies with CP under six months can show the following symptoms:

  • When you pick up your sleeping baby (on their back), their head falls backward.

  • Babies with cerebral palsy may have either rigid or loose muscle tone. They tend to arch their neck and back when held, appearing to push themselves away.

  • When picked up, their legs may stiffen and cross over each other in a scissor-like movement.

Warning signs for babies older than six months are:

  • Inability to roll over

  • Frailty in joining their hands.

  • Incompetence in bringing their hands to their mouth. They can only reach with one hand. The other maintains a fist.

Early intervention is proven time and again as an effective treatment in the case of kids.

Cerebral palsy diagnosis

Cerebral palsy cannot be diagnosed using a single or simple test. Multiple tests are time-consuming observations that are essential to rule out any other condition and to get an accurate diagnosis. If a child seems to face problems with motor development, muscle tone, coordination, or balance, getting him diagnosed by a specialist is important. Subtle changes can be spotted by your doctor over time. However, it is more likely to spot a milestone delay for a three-year-old than a nine-month-old. This is one of the most common reasons why some children do not receive a diagnosis until they are older.

A significant majority of children with cerebral palsy are diagnosed by the age of two. However, if your baby's symptoms are mild, he or she may not be diagnosed until the age of 4 or 5. The most typical traits of cerebral palsy are jerky and convulsive movements, abnormal muscle movements, delayed milestones, and poor coordination.

Risk factors associated with CP

  • Babies have a higher chance of developing cerebral palsy if they are born too early and have a low birth weight,

  • If they score low on a physical health assessment called the Apgar score,

  • If they are born in a breech position (feet or buttocks first),

  • If the mother's blood is incompatible with the baby's blood (Rh incompatibility),

  • The pregnant parent's exposure to harmful chemicals, such as illicit drugs or medications that impact the fetus

  • Being a twin or triplet

Prevention of Cerebral Palsy

The majority of cerebral palsy-causing conditions cannot always be avoided. However, if you have or are planning to conceive, certain precautions can be taken to mitigate complications.

German Measles (rubella) is known to cause substantial brain damage to the fetus. Therefore, vaccination is a must. Prenatal care should also be a priority. Regular checkups during the pregnancy period may help in preventing infections, low birth weight, and premature delivery.

Is Cerebral Palsy Curable?

Cerebral palsy cannot be cured, but it will not worsen over time. Early intervention and therapeutic measures, and remedies can alleviate the symptoms of developmental disorders and improve mobility.

Although there is no cure for cerebral palsy, certain symptoms can be managed, and complications can be delayed or prevented. Treatment approaches may differ from person to person, depending on their specific needs and conditions. Cerebral palsy patients may require little to extensive, long-term care to manage their symptoms, depending upon the severity of the disorder.

Irrespective of the severity of the condition, therapies and medications can help those with cerebral palsy improve their motor skills and their ability to communicate.

So keep in mind to Connect, Consult & Heal.

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