What is Cerebral Palsy?

Today is National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day. Why should we be talking about it? Well, for one thing, it's estimated that 764,000 children and adults in the United States manifest one or more of the symptoms of cerebral palsy (CP). For another, about 8,000 infants are diagnosed with the condition each year (early signs of CP usually appear before a child is 18 months old). In the United States, about 10 percent of children who have CP get it after birth.

So what is Cerebral Palsy and how do you know if your baby is showing signs of it? I spoke with MOMMYTO5CUTIES, whose youngest child has CP, and also consulted with United Cerebral Palsy to find out.


1. What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a condition (not a disease) that affects muscle tone, movement, and motor skills (the ability to move in a coordinated and purposeful way).
It's caused by damage to one or more areas of the brain. The damage can take place during fetal development; before, during, or shortly after birth; or during infancy. Cerebral palsy affects muscle control and coordination, so even simple movements like standing still are difficult. Other vital functions that involve motor skills and muscles—such as breathing, bladder and bowel control, eating, and learning—are also affected when a child has CP. There are three types:

Spastic cerebral palsy affects 70 to 80 percent of patients. The muscles are stiff and permanently contracted.

Athetoid cerebral palsy leads to involuntary and uncontrolled movement, usually in the hands, feet, arms, or legs and sometimes the face or tongue. The movements often increase when the child is emotionally stressed.

Ataxic cerebral palsy is a rare form that causes a disturbed sense of balance and depth perception. It affects coordination and sometimes causes tremors.

2. What causes CP?
Congenital cerebral palsy
is the result of a brain injury during intra-uterine life or during delivery. In most cases, the cause of congenital cerebral palsy is unknown. Acquired cerebral palsy results from brain damage in the first few months or years of life and can follow brain infections, such as bacterial meningitis or viral encephalitis, or the results of a head injury—usually from a motor vehicle accident, a fall, or child abuse.

Risk factors for cerebral palsy include premature birth; low birth weight; RH or A-B-O blood type incompatibility between mother and infant; bacterial infection of the mother, fetus or infant that directly or indirectly attack the infant's central nervous system; prolonged loss of oxygen during the birthing process and severe jaundice shortly after birth. Just because a risk factor is present that doesn't mean your baby has or will have CP.

3. Can Cerebral Palsy be prevented?
While the cause of most cases of CP is unknown, some measures of prevention are possible for those risk factors we do know about.
Pregnant women who are Rh negative can be immunized within 72 hours after the birth. A newborn with jaundice can be treated with light therapy in the hospital nursery. Pregnant women can avoid unnecessary exposure to X-rays, drugs and medications. In general, good prenatal care is important, as is protecting infants from accidents and injuries.

4. Is there a cure?
CP can be managed but not cured—medicines, surgery, and braces might be options to help improve nerve and muscle coordination. Children with cerebral palsy go to school, and grow up to have jobs, get married, and raise families.

5. What are the signs of CP?
They're usually evident before a baby is 18 months. Infants with cerebral palsy are slow to reach developmental milestones—learning to roll over, sit, crawl, smile, or walk. Some children have decreased muscle tone or hypotonia (the baby may seem flaccid and relaxed, even floppy); others have increased muscle tone or hypertonia (the baby may seem stiff or rigid). If you're concerned about your baby's development for any reason, you should talk to your doctor.

For more information on Cerebral Palsy visit United Cerebral Palsy or check out some of these groups on CafeMom: Children with Cerebral Palsy, Cerebral Palsy: To What Degree?, and Moms With a Cerebral Palsy Child.


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