Cerebral palsy: Symptoms, causes, and treatments

Cerebral palsy is a term used to describe a set of neurological conditions that affect movement. It is the most common form of childhood disability.

It affects around 764,000 individuals in the United States.

The condition makes it hard to move certain parts of the body. There are many degrees of severity.

Because of damage to certain parts of the brain, voluntary or involuntary movements or both can be affected.

Cerebral palsy is not contagious, it does not necessarily affect intelligence or cognitive ability, and it is not progressive, so it does not get worse with age. Some people find that symptoms improve over time.

People with cerebral palsy tend to have a normal lifespan, and in many cases, a good quality of life can be expected.

Causes

Diagram of the brain
The cerebrum is the upper part of the human brain.

Muscle control takes place in a part of the brain called the cerebrum. The cerebrum is the upper part of the brain. Damage to the cerebrum before, during, or within 5 years of birth can cause cerebral palsy.

The cerebrum is also responsible for memory, ability to learn, and communication skills. This is why some people with cerebral palsy have problems with communication and learning. Cerebrum damage can sometimes affect vision and hearing.

Some newborns are deprived of oxygen during labor and delivery.

In the past, it was thought that this lack of oxygen during birth led to the brain damage.

However, during the 1980s, research showed that fewer than 1 in 10 cases of cerebral palsy stem from oxygen deprivation during birth.

Most often, the damage occurs before birth, probably during the first 6 months of pregnancy.

There are at least three possible reasons for this.

Periventricular leukomalacia (PVL)

PVL is a kind of damage that affects the brain’s white matter because of a lack of oxygen in the womb.

It may occur if the mother has an infection during pregnancy, such as rubella or German measles, low blood pressure, preterm delivery, or if she uses an illegal drug.

Abnormal development of the brain

Disruption of brain development can affect the way the brain communicates with the body’s muscles and other functions.

During the first 6 months of pregnancy, the brain of the embryo or fetus is particularly vulnerable.

Damage can stem from mutations in the genes responsible for brain development, certain infections such as toxoplasmosis, a parasite infection, herpes and herpes-like viruses, and head trauma.

Intracranial hemorrhage

Sometimes, bleeding inside the brain happens when a fetus experiences a stroke.

Bleeding in the brain can stop the supply of blood to vital brain tissue, and this tissue can become damaged or die. The escaped blood can clot and damage surrounding tissue.

Several factors can cause a stroke in a fetus during pregnancy:

a blood clot in the placenta that blocks the flow of blood

a clotting disorder in the fetus

interruptions in arterial blood flow to the fetal brain

untreated pre-eclampsia in the mother

inflammation of the placenta

pelvic inflammatory infection in the mother

During delivery, the risk is increased by the following factors:

emergency cesarean

the second stage of labor is prolonged

vacuum extraction is used during delivery

fetal or neonatal heart anomalies

umbilical cord abnormalities

Anything that increases the risk of preterm birth or low birth weight also raises the risk of cerebral palsy.

Factors that may contribute to a higher risk of cerebral palsy include:

multiple births, for example, twins

damaged placenta

sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

consumption of alcohol, illegal drugs, or toxic substances during pregnancy

malnourishment during pregnancy

random malformation of the fetal brain

small pelvis in the mother

breech delivery

Brain damage after birth

A small proportion of cases happen because of damage after birth. This can happen because of an infection such as meningitis, a head injury, a drowning accident, or poisoning.

When damage occurs, it will do so soon after the birth. With age, the human brain becomes more resilient and able withstand more damage.

Symptoms

[cerebral palsy walker]
Cerebral palsy affects the muscles.

An infant with cerebral palsy may have muscular and movement problems, including poor muscle tone. Muscle tone refers to a person’s automatic ability to tighten and relax muscle when required.

Features can include:

overdeveloped or underdeveloped muscles, leading to stiff or floppy movements

poor coordination and balance, known as ataxia

involuntary, slow writhing movements, or athetosis

stiff muscles that contract abnormally, known as spastic paralysis

crawling in an unusual way

lying down in awkward positions

favoring one side of the body over the other

a limited range of movement

Other signs and symptoms include:

late achievement of developmental milestones such as crawling, walking, or speaking

hearing and eyesight problems

problems controlling bladder and bowel movements

seizures

drooling, and problems with feeding, sucking, and swallowing

being easily startled

Symptoms normally start to show during the first 3 years of life.

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Types

There are four types of cerebral palsy: Spastic, athetoid-dyskinetic, ataxic, and hypotonic.

Spastic cerebral palsy

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