Cerebral palsy affects approximately two of every 1,000 live births in the United States. This condition is usually the result of damage or abnormalities to the brain that occur before, during, or shortly after birth. Cerebral palsy affects the parts of the brain that are involved with movement and coordination, and a child’s ability to control his or her muscles.
Causes and Risk Factors
It is difficult to determine how damage or abnormalities to the brain are caused. Before a child is born, the brain is extremely sensitive to damage from maternal infections and toxins, as well as exposure to drugs or alcohol. A lack of oxygen during birth has also been linked to the development of cerebral palsy in some cases. After birth, infection, lack of oxygen, and head injuries can all be contributing factors. Children born prematurely may be at a greater risk for developing cerebral palsy.
In most cases, cerebral palsy begins before a child is born, but this condition can also present itself at birth or during the early years of life. The physical disabilities resulting from cerebral palsy can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on which part and how much of the brain has been damaged. Early symptoms of cerebral palsy include:
- Delayed milestones like learning to roll over, sit up, crawl, or walk
- Exaggerated reflexes
- Involuntary movement
- Stiffness or floppiness in the limbs
There is no cure for cerebral palsy, but treatment for the symptoms is available. Treatment such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, medication, or braces can help children significantly improve their functional capabilities. The condition will not worsen as children get older, but it is important to start treatment as soon as possible for the best results. In some cases, a pediatric neurosurgeon can do a surgical procedure to help manage the spasticity that can be associated with cerebral palsy.