What is cerebral palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a condition in which the ability to control muscles is reduced due to nervous system damage before, during, or after birth. This nervous system damage affects body movement and posture. It usually manifests as rigid muscles or involuntary muscle movements.
Cerebral palsy can affect movement, coordination, muscle tone, and posture. It can also be associated with impaired vision, hearing, speech, eating and learning.
Developmental delays such as crawling, walking, and speaking can be seen in children with cerebral palsy. In young children, this diagnosis is usually made by the age of two.
If you think your child is showing some of the symptoms of this disease or if his development is delayed, it is always useful to consult your doctor.
Types of cerebral palsy
There are 4 main types of cerebral palsy:
- Spastic cerebral palsy: A condition in which the muscles are weak and stiff. The movements of those affected by this type are strange. One or both of the arms or legs may be affected differently.
- Dyskinetic cerebral palsy: A type in which the muscles move uncontrollably or cause involuntary postures. This is caused by the contraction and relaxation of the muscles of the arms, legs, and body. If the facial and tongue muscles are affected, it is difficult to speak.
- Ataxic cerebral palsy: It is the type in which movements appear jerky and clumsy due to balance and coordination problems. It can lead to difficulty with unsteady walking. People with this type may experience involuntary hand tremors.
- Mixed: A type in which the person displays a range of the above characteristics.
People with this disease may also have other conditions, such as intellectual disability, epilepsy, delayed growth, spinal deformities, and vision, hearing, and speech problems.
Cerebral palsy causes and risk factors
Cerebral palsy occurs when there is brain damage that develops in the area that controls muscle tone (motor cortex). In some cases, the motor cortex does not develop normally in the fetus. Depending on the damage, cerebral palsy affects people in different ways and in different sizes.
Also, risk factors for cerebral palsy disease can be:
- Prematurity and low birth weight
- Some pregnancy complications
- an infection that the mother caught during pregnancy
- Prolonged loss of oxygen during pregnancy or childbirth or severe jaundice after birth
- Injury or bleeding in the baby’s brain
- Mutations in genes that affect brain development
- Multiple births such as twins or triplets
For most babies with cerebral palsy, the cause is unknown. There is no single cause for this disease.
Damage to the brain does not worsen with age, but is permanent. Life expectancy is normal, but its effects can cause stress on the body and premature aging.
What are the symptoms of cerebral palsy?
This disease causes a variety of symptoms. The most common ones include:
- stiffness in the muscles
- muscle weakness
- having exaggerated reflexes
- lack of muscle coordination
- uncontrolled body movements
- Balance and coordination problems
- Problems swallowing, sucking, or eating
- Using only one side of the body to reach things
- delay in learning to speak
These symptoms can be mild or severe. They usually appear in the first 2 years of a child’s life.
When should you see a doctor?
If your child has movement disorders or developmental delays, early detection is very important. If your child shows one or more of the above symptoms, it would be beneficial to see a doctor immediately.
How is cerebral palsy diagnosed?
If your child is slow to develop physical skills, has muscle stiffness, or has an unusual posture, you may be worried about this disease. For example, if your child is not walking for 12-18 months and not speaking simple sentences for 24 months, or is showing some of the above symptoms, you should talk to your child’s doctor.
Your doctor may consider a diagnosis of the disease based on your child’s symptoms and examination. The doctor may also refer you to another pediatrician. Your doctor will talk to you and your child, physically examine them, test their hearing, vision and more.
Your doctor may order tests that involve imaging the brain, such as ultrasound, CT scan, or magnetic resonance imaging . These tests help distinguish between cerebral palsy disease and other possible causes. A blood test may also be required to rule out causes of other muscle problems . If your child has other associated conditions such as epilepsy, a number of other tests may also be required, such as a brain activity test .
Repeated tests and doctor visits may be required to reach a diagnosis of the disease. In particularly mild cases, diagnoses can take months or even years. While this is very frustrating, it takes time. Getting the diagnosis right is important.
How is cerebral palsy treated?
This disease cannot be cured, but much can be done to help people with this condition. In particular, children can benefit from the services of a team of healthcare professionals to address the following issues:
- Speech, sight and hearing
- eating and drinking
- Bladder and bowel control
- emotional well-being
Physiotherapists and occupational therapists can assist with daily tasks such as sitting, walking, dressing, and using the toilet. They may recommend things like splints and exercises to help strengthen the muscles. Along with expert advice, equipment such as walking frames, wheelchairs and modified shoes can also be helpful.
Some medications can help relax stiff or overactive muscles, reduce pain, and improve mobility. There are special braces to help with muscle imbalance and surgical and mechanical aids to overcome other disorders. You may also need medications if you have epilepsy, pain, sleep or eating disorders due to illness.
There are also specialists who can help with the learning, communication and emotional issues that patients often experience.
Working adults with the disease should know that working conditions need to be adapted with flexible hours, more rest time, and changes in the physical environment. There can be problems with mobility, especially when making simple transfers from bed to sitting. Evaluation of the environment by an occupational therapist before starting work will prevent possible problems.