Cerebral palsy is the name given to a variety of life-long conditions that affect some 1 in every 400 children, with approximately 1700 new cases each year.
Some people with the condition can live for many years comparatively unhindered, whereas more serious cases can massively reduce a victim’s life expectancy and quality of life.
Cerebral palsy has been getting much more attention as of late, with greater amounts of charity work being seen and more investment being put into providing care for victims and to work towards treatments.
This article will give an overview of the causes, symptoms, and possible treatment possibilities for cerebral palsy.
What causes Cerebral Palsy?
A problem with the brain causes cerebral palsy. This problem develops either before, during, or soon after birth; this can be through either damage or a developmental problem.
The most common of these causes are problems before birth, which are caused by things that affect the development of the brain while the baby grows. These can include:
- The baby suffering a stroke
- The baby suffering an injury to the head, typically due to blunt force trauma to the pregnant mother
- The mother suffering from diseases such as rubella or chickenpox
- Periventricular leukomalacia; this occurs when the white matter in the brain is damaged, typically through a reduction to oxygen or blood supply
Less commonly, cerebral palsy is caused by complications during or after birth. Like in cases where it develops before birth, the condition can come about from a head injury or a stroke, but other possible causes include:
- Temporary asphyxiation from a difficult birth
- Very low blood sugar levels
- Choking or drowning
- Brain infections, such as meningitis
There are also a variety of factors which increase the risk of a child having cerebral palsy. Being of low birth weight correlates with the condition, as well as premature births; being born before 32 weeks is a particular risk.
If the mother is over 35 or has unusual (either high or low) blood pressure, there is also an added risk to the child. Finally, being a twin or part of a multiple pregnancy birth also increases the risk of any of the children being born with the condition.
What are the Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy?
There are a wide variety of symptoms that can develop as a result of cerebral palsy, but they are often difficult to diagnose initially. The symptoms usually become noticeable within the first two years of a child’s life. These symptoms can include:
- Weak arms or legs
- Muscle spasms
- Walking on tiptoes
- Stiffness or floppiness of limbs
- Delays in reaching developmental milestones, such as walking or crawling
- Fidgety, jerky, or otherwise uncontrolled movements
- Hearing loss
- Learning disabilities
- Eating and swallowing difficulties
- Eye problems, like reduced vision
The severity of particular symptoms differs between children, as well as which bits of the body are affected. For example, some children will experience muscle problems in only one side of their body, and others may have them in just the lower body. Likewise, not all symptoms will be expressed in each case of cerebral palsy. There are four different kinds of cerebral palsy that a child can be diagnosed with by their doctor, depending on which symptoms develop in a particular case. These types are known as:
- Dyskinetic CP: the muscles switch between spasming, stiffness, floppiness, and random/uncontrolled movements
- Ataxic CP: primarily expressed through balance issues or coordination issues such as tremors and clumsy movements
- Spastic CP: stiff muscles which make quick movements difficult and restrict the range of possible movements
- Mixed CP: cerebral palsy which expresses symptoms from multiple other classifications of cerebral palsy
What kind of Treatments are there for Cerebral Palsy?
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for cerebral palsy. What does exist though, are a wide variety of methods through which people with the condition are enabled to live as independent and active persons.
A team of healthcare professionals from across disciplines will develop a care plan, and edit it as the patient grows older and perhaps develops different symptoms. Maintaining regular contact with the care team is important in monitoring the development of the condition.
Physiotherapy plays a huge role in the management of cases, aiming to improve strength, encourage movement, and stop the shortening of muscles. Physiotherapists also provide advice on implements like walking sticks or leg braces to help support the limbs and avoid doing more damage to them.
Occupational therapists also assist in this area of therapy by assessing problems patients have with completing everyday tasks and providing solutions. This massively helps boost independence and self-esteem by enabling people with the condition to perform daily tasks like dressing or bathing by themselves.
Occupational therapists also provide advice and support for people with cerebral palsy who wish to live independently, ranging from getting specialist housing advice, to implementing technologies to assist with living.
The final main area of therapy that can be required for people with cerebral palsy comes from speech and language therapists. S&L therapists work with patients with communication difficulties stemming from the condition, providing exercises to help practice speaking or teaching them to use alternative communication techniques like sign language.
Frequently, S&L therapists will implement the use of technology like computer equipment to either speak for the patient or supplement their communication abilities. This enables a degree of freedom and independence that helps patients with cerebral palsy to adjust to normal life.
The NHS website has information about Cerebral Palsy, including more detail on possible symptoms, treatments, and the process of diagnosing the condition: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cerebral-palsy/
Scope is the main Cerebral Palsy charity in the UK, and can provide support and information for people and families with the condition: https://www.scope.org.uk/
The CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention) – 11 things to know about cerebral palsy – https://www.cdc.gov/features/cerebral-palsy-11-things/