Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affect motion and muscle tone or posture. It’s caused by harm to the immature, developing brain, most often before birth.
Symptoms appear in childhood or preschool years. In general, cerebral palsy causes weak movement associated with exaggerated reflexes, flexibility or spasticity of the limbs and trunk, abnormal posture, spontaneous movements, unsteady walking, or some combination thereof
People with cerebral palsy may have difficulty swallowing and usually have an eye muscle imbalance in which the eyes do not focus on the same object. They may have reduced the range of motion in various joints of the body due to muscle stiffness.
The cause of cerebral palsy and its result on function vary greatly. Some people with cerebral palsy can walk; others require assistance. Some people have intellectual disabilities, but others do not. Epilepsy, blindness, or deafness also might be present. Cerebral palsy is a lifelong disorder. There is no cure, but treatments can help enhance function.
The symptoms of cerebral palsy vary greatly from person to person. Cerebral palsy can affect the whole body, or it can be limited to one or both joints or one side of the body. In general, signs and symptoms include movement and coordination, speech and eating, development, and other problems.
Movement and coordination
Stiff muscles (stiffness) with normal reflexes. Spasticity is the most common movement disorder caused by stiff muscles and overactive reflexes. Variations in muscle tone, i.e. being too hard or too flexible. Slow, agile movements. Lack of balance and muscle coordination (ataxia). Trembling or unconscious spontaneous movements.
Liking one side of the body like reaching with only one hand or pulling one leg while crawling. Difficulty walking on toes, curved gait, a scissor-like gait that crosses the knee, wide gait, or asymmetrical gait
Speech and Eating
Delay in speech development. Difficulty in speaking. Difficulty in sucking, chewing, or eating. Excessive salivation or difficulty swallowing
Delay in reaching milestones of motor skills such as sitting or crawling. Learning Disabilities. Intellectual Disabilities. Delayed growth results in smaller than expected
Damage to the brain can contribute to other neurological issues, such as:
Problems with vision and abnormal eye movements
Feelings of abnormal touch or pain
Bladder and bowel problems, including constipation and urinary incontinence
Mental health conditions, such as emotional disorders and behavioral issues
The brain disorder that causes cerebral palsy does not change over time, so the symptoms usually do not get worse with age. However, as the child gets older, some symptoms may become more or less pronounced. Muscle contraction and muscle stiffness can worsen if not treated more seriously.
Cerebral palsy is caused by abnormal brain development or damage to the developing brain. This usually happens before a child is born, but it can occur at birth or early infancy. In many cases, the cause isn’t known. Several factors can lead to problems with brain development. Some include:
- Genetic changes or genetic disorders that cause differences in brain development
- Maternal infections affecting the developing fetus
- Fetal stroke is a disruption of the blood supply to the developing brain
- Bleeding in the uterus or newborn brain
- Pediatric infections that cause inflammation in or around the brain
- A traumatic head injury to a child such as a motor vehicle accident, fall, or physical abuse
- Lack of oxygen to the brain is associated with difficult childbirth or childbirth, although birth-related suffocation is far less common than historically thought.
When to see a doctor
It is important to immediately diagnose a movement disorder or developmental delay in your baby. See your child’s doctor if you have concerns about loss of environmental awareness or abnormal body movements or muscle tone, poor coordination, difficulty swallowing, eye muscle imbalance, or other developmental problems.