There are many different forms of the disability, each caused by damage to a different area of the brain. The spastic type, accounting for over half of the cases, results from damage to the motor areas of the cerebral cortex and causes the affected muscles to be contracted and overresponsive to stimuli. Athetoid cerebral palsy, caused by damage to the basal ganglia, results in continual, involuntary writhing movements. Choreic cerebral palsy is characterized by jerking, flailing movements. Ataxic cerebral palsy, involving the cerebellum, causes either an impaired sense of balance or a lack of coordinated movements. In addition to these types, which may occur singly or together, emotional, visual, and hearing impairments and convulsive seizures may be present. Some of those affected have a degree of mental retardation, but in many the intellect is unimpaired.
There is no cure for the disorder. Treatment usually includes physical, occupational, and speech therapy, and sometimes includes biofeedback and muscle relaxants. Sometimes appliances such as braces and surgery are helpful. Measures that appear to help decrease the incidence of cerebral palsy include maternal immunization against rubella, maternal abstention from smoking and alcohol consumption, magnesium sulfate given in premature labor, treatment for Rh incompatibility (see blood groups), and treatment of hyperbilirubinemia (jaundice) in the newborn.
Paralysis resulting from abnormal development or damage to the brain before or soon after birth. Cases are of four main types: spastic, with spasms contracting the extremities and often also with intellectual disability and epilepsy; athetoid, with slow, changing spasms in the face, neck, and extremities, grimacing, and inarticulate speech (dysarthria); ataxic, with poor coordination, muscle weakness, an unsteady gait, and difficulty performing rapid or fine movements; and mixed, in which symptoms of two or more types are present.
Learn more about cerebral palsy with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Cerebral refers to the cerebrum, which is the affected area of the brain (although the disorder most likely involves connections between the cortex and other parts of the brain such as the cerebellum), and palsy refers to disorder of movement. CP is caused by damage to the motor control centers of the young developing brain and can occur during pregnancy (about 75 percent), during childbirth (about 5 percent) or after birth (about 15 percent) up to about age three.
It is a non-progressive disorder, meaning the brain damage does not worsen, but secondary orthopedic difficulties are common. There is no known cure for CP. Medical intervention is limited to the treatment and prevention of complications arising from CP's effects.
Onset of arthritis and osteoporosis can occur much sooner in adults with cerebral palsy. Further research is needed on adults with CP, as the current literature body is highly focused on the pediatric patient. CP's resultant motor disorder(s) are sometimes, though not always, accompanied by "disturbances of sensation, cognition, communication, perception, and/or behavior, and/or by a seizure disorder".
A 2003 study put the economic cost for CP suffers in the US at $921,000 per case, including lost income. In another study, the incidence in six countries surveyed was 2.12–2.45 per 1000 live births; there has been a slight increase in recent years. Although improvements in neonatal nursing help reduce the number of babies who develop cerebral palsy, they also mean that babies with very low birth weights survive, and these babies are more likely to have cerebral palsy.
CP is divided into four major classifications to describe the different movement impairments. These classifications reflect the area of brain damaged. The four major classifications are:
In 30 percent of all cases of CP, the spastic form is found along with one of the other types. There are a number of other, less prevalent types of CP, but these are the most common.
A general classification is as follows:
In the United States, approximately 10,000 infants and babies are diagnosed with CP each year, and 1200-1500 are diagnosed at preschool age.
Overall, advances in care of pregnant mothers and their babies has not resulted in a noticeable decrease in CP. This is generally attributed to medical advances in areas related to the care of premature babies (which results in a greater survival rate). Only the introduction of quality medical care to locations with less-than-adequate medical care has shown any decreases. The incidence of CP increases with premature or very low-weight babies regardless of the quality of care.
Prevalence of cerebral palsy is best calculated around the school entry age of about six years, the prevalence in the U.S. is estimated to be 2.4 out of 1000 children
The SCPE reported the following incidence of comorbidities in children with CP (the data are from 1980-1990 and included over 4,500 children over age 4 whose CP was acquired during the prenatal or neonatal period):
The SCPE noted that the incidence of comorbidities is difficult to measure accurately, particularly across centers. For example, the actual rate of mental retardation may be difficult to determine, as the physical and communicational limitations of people with CP would likely lower their scores on an IQ test if they were not given a correctly modified version.
Apgar scores have sometimes been used as one factor to predict whether or not an individual will develop CP.
All types of CP are characterised by abnormal muscle tone, posture (i.e. slouching over while sitting), reflexes, or motor development and coordination. There can be joint and bone deformities and contractures (permanently fixed, tight muscles and joints). The classical symptoms are spasticity, spasms, other involuntary movements (e.g. facial gestures), unsteady gait, problems with balance, and/or soft tissue findings consisting largely of decreased muscle mass. Scissor walking (where the knees come in and cross) and toe walking are common among people with CP who are able to walk, but taken on the whole, CP symptomatology is very diverse. The effects of cerebral palsy fall on a continuum of motor dysfunction which may range from virtually unnoticeable to "clumsy" and awkward movements on one end of the spectrum to such severe impairments that coordinated movements are almost impossible on the other end of the spectrum.
Babies born with severe CP often have an irregular posture; their bodies may be either very floppy or very stiff. Birth defects, such as spinal curvature, a small jawbone, or a small head sometimes occur along with CP. Symptoms may appear, change, or become more severe as a child gets older. Some babies born with CP do not show obvious signs right away.
Some contributing causes of CP are asphyxia, hypoxia of the brain, birth trauma, premature birth, central nervous system infections and certain infections in the mother during and before birth. CP is also more common in multiple birth.
Studies at the University of Liverpool have led to the hypothesis that many cases of cerebral palsy, and other conditions that an infant has at birth, are caused by the death in very early pregnancy of an identical twin. This may occur when twins have a joint circulation through sharing the same placenta. Not all identical twins share the same blood supply (monochorionic twins), but if they do, the suggestion is that perturbations in blood flow between them can cause the death of one and damage to the development of the surviving fetus . It is common knowledge amongst obstetricians and midwives that a small dead fetus (fetus papyraceus) may sometimes be found attached to a placenta following birth. In the past, this has not been considered important and knowledge of the so called ‘vanishing twin’ has been suppressed to avoid triggering feelings of loss, grief, or guilt in mothers. The pathological consequences depend on the severity and the stage of development of the fetus when the imbalances in blood flow between the fetuses occur. It has been proposed that such pathology could account, not just for cerebral palsy, but for developmental abnormalities of the eye, heart, and gut, and other specific brain abnormalities such as neuronal migration disorders e.g. lissencephaly and holoprosencephaly, which occur during very early fetal development.
Between 40% and 50% of all children who develop cerebral palsy were born prematurely. Premature infants are vulnerable, in part because their organs are not fully developed, increasing the risk of hypoxic injury to the brain that may manifest as CP. A problem in interpreting this is the difficulty in differentiating between CP caused by damage to the brain that results from inadequate oxygenation and CP that arises from prenatal brain damage that then precipitates premature delivery.
Recent research has demonstrated that intrapartum asphyxia is not the most important cause, probably accounting for no more than 10 percent of all cases; rather, infections in the mother, even infections that are not easily detected, may triple the risk of the child developing the disorder, mainly as the result of the toxicity to the fetal brain of cytokines that are produced as part of the inflammatory response. Low birthweight is a risk factor for CP--and premature infants usually have low birth weights, less than 2.0 kg, but full-term infants can also have low birth weights. Multiple-birth infants are also more likely than single-birth infants to be born early or with a low birth weight.
After birth, other causes include toxins, severe jaundice, lead poisoning, physical brain injury, shaken baby syndrome, incidents involving hypoxia to the brain (such as near drowning), and encephalitis or meningitis. The three most common causes of asphyxia in the young child are: choking on foreign objects such as toys and pieces of food; poisoning; and near drowning.
Some structural brain anomalies such as lissencephaly may present with the clinical features of CP, although whether that could be considered CP is a matter of opinion (some people say CP must be due to brain damage, whereas these people never had a normal brain). Often this goes along with rare chromosome disorders and CP is not genetic or hereditary.
The diagnosis of cerebral palsy has historically rested on the patient's history and physical examination. Once diagnosed with cerebral palsy, further diagnostic tests are optional. The American Academy of Neurology published an article in 2004 reviewing the literature and evidence available on CT and MRI imaging. They suggested that neuroimaging with CT or MRI is warranted when the etiology of a patient's cerebral palsy has not been established - an MRI is preferred over CT due to diagnostic yield and safety. When abnormal, the neuroimaging study can suggest the timing of the initial damage. The CT or MRI is also capable of revealing treatable conditions, such as hydrocephalus, porencephaly, arteriovenous malformation, subdural hematomas and hygromas, and a vermian tumor (which a few studies suggest are present 5 to 22%). Furthermore, an abnormal neuroimaging study indicates a high likelihood of associated conditions, such as epilepsy and mental retardation.
The full intellectual potential of a child born with CP will often not be known until the child starts school. People with CP are more likely to have some type of learning disability, but this is unrelated to a person's intellect or IQ level. Intellectual level among people with CP varies from genius to mentally retarded, as it does in the general population, and experts have stated that it is important to not underestimate CP sufferer's capabilities and to give them every opportunity to learn.
The ability to live independently with CP also varies widely depending on the severity of the disability. Some individuals with CP will require personal assistant services for all activities of daily living. Others can live semi-independently, needing support only for certain activities. Still others can live in complete independence. The need for personal assistance often changes with increasing age and the associated functional decline. However, in most cases persons with CP can expect to have a normal life expectancy; survival has been shown to be associated with the ability to ambulate, roll, and self-feed. As the condition does not directly affect reproductive function, some persons with CP have children and parent successfully.
According to OMIM, only 2% of cases of CP are inherited (with glutamate decarboxylase-1 as one known enzyme involved.) There is no evidence of an increased chance of a person with CP having a child with CP.
Early Nutritional Support In one cohort study of 490 premature infants discharged from the NICU, the rate of growth during hospital stay was related to neurological function at 18 and 22 months of age. The study found a signficant decrease in the incidence of cerebral palsy in the group of premature infants with the highest growth velocity. This study suggests that adequate nutrition and growth play a protective role in the development of cerebral palsy.
Physical therapy (PT) programs are designed to encourage the patient to build a strength base for improved gait and volitional movement, together with stretching programs to limit contractures. Many experts believe that life-long physical therapy is crucial to maintain muscle tone, bone structure, and prevent dislocation of the joints.
Occupational therapy helps adults and children maximise their function, adapt to their limitations and live as independently as possible.
Orthotic devices such as ankle-foot orthoses (AFOs) are often prescribed to minimise gait irregularities. AFOs have been found to improve several measures of ambulation, including reducing energy expenditure and increasing speed and stride length.
Speech therapy helps control the muscles of the mouth and jaw, and helps improve communication. Just as CP can affect the way a person moves their arms and legs, it can also affect the way they move their mouth, face and head. This can make it hard for the person to breathe; talk clearly; and bite, chew and swallow food. Speech therapy often starts before a child begins school and continues throughout the school years.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy Recent studies have demonstrated a dramatic improvement in CP symptomology when hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used as a treatment. In 1989, researchers in Brazil reported an alleviation in symptomology and other characteristics in a study involving 218 cerebral palsy patients. Significant enhancements were documented showing improved vision, hearing and speech as well as a reduction of spasticity by 50%, which occurred in 94% of study patients. Since the publication of the São Paulo review, other studies on the efficacy of hyperbaric oxygenation have been published though the number of subjects have remained low. An editorial published by the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society in 2007 reviewed all publications to date and called for further research that will include "basic science research to determine a reasonable mechanism of action" for hyperbaric oxygenation as well as "clinical studies of the highest possible methodological rigor".
Nutritional counseling may help when dietary needs are not met because of problems with eating certain foods.
Both massage therapy and hatha yoga are designed to help relax tense muscles, strengthen muscles, and keep joints flexible. Hatha yoga breathing exercises are sometimes used to try to prevent lung infections. More research is needed to determine the health benefits of these therapies for people with CP.
Surgery for people with CP usually involves one or a combination of:
Another way is that a new study has found that cooling the bodies and blood of high-risk full-term babies shortly after birth may significantly reduce disability or death.
Cord Blood Therapy: There are no published randomized controlled trials or meta-analysis of this treatment modality in cerebral palsy. In March 2008 a boy that was diagnosed with cerebral palsy appeared on the Today Show with his family. The parents noted that he could not walk on his own and appeared to be "swallowing his tongue" at times. He was eventually diagnosed with cerebral palsy and could only walk with the aid of a walker for a short time. Earlier this year he participated in a clinical trial involving his own cord blood that his parents had saved when he was born. Within 5 days after the procedure he was walking on his own and talking, something his mother said he was not capable of on his own and it was doubtful he would ever be able to do on his own. The doctors also told his parents that if his rate of progress continues uninterrupted until he is 7 he will be pronounced cured. The parents message to the audience was "Bank your babies cord blood or donate it if you do not want to keep it. But you never know when you may need it." Conductive education (CE) was developed in Hungary from 1945 based on the work of András Pető. It is a unified system of rehabilitation for people with neurological disorders including cerebral palsy, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis, amongst other conditions. It is theorised to improve mobility, self-esteem, stamina and independence as well as daily living skills and social skills. The conductor is the professional who delivers CE in partnership with parents and children. Skills learned during CE should be applied to everyday life and can help to develop age-appropriate cognitive, social and emotional skills. It is available at specialised centres.
Biofeedback is an alternative therapy in which people with CP learn how to control their affected muscles. Some people learn ways to reduce muscle tension with this technique. Biofeedback does not help everyone with CP.
Neuro - cognitive therapy. A new approach to treating cerebral palsy from [Snowdrop]. It is based upon two proven principles. (1). Neural Plasticity. The brain is capable of altering its own structure and functioning to meet the demands of any particular environment. Consequently if the child is provided with an appropriate neurological environment, he will have the best chance of making progress. (2)Learning can lead development. As early as the early 1900s, this was being proven by a psychologist named Lev Vygotsky. He proposed that children's learning is a social activity, which is achieved by interaction with more skilled members of society. There are many studies, which provide evidence for this claim. there are however, as yet no controlled studies on neuro - cognitive therapy.
Patterning is a controversial form of alternative therapy for people with CP. The method is promoted by The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential (IAHP), a Philadelphia nonprofit, but has been criticized by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The IAHP's methods have been endorsed by Linus Pauling, as well as some parents of children treated with their methods.
Impairment is the correct term to use to define a deviation from normal, such as not being able to make a muscle move or not being able to control an unwanted movement. Disability is the term used to define a restriction in the ability to perform a normal activity of daily living which someone of the same age is able to perform. For example, a three year old child who is not able to walk has a disability because normal three year old can walk independently. Handicap is the term used to describe a child or adult who, because of the disability, is unable to achieve the normal role in society commensurate with his age and socio-cultural milieu. As an example, a sixteen-year- old who is unable to prepare his own meal or care for his own toileting or hygiene needs is handicapped. On the other hand, a sixteen-year- old who can walk only with the assistance of crutches but who attends a regular school and is fully independent in activities of daily living is disabled but not handicapped. All disabled people are impaired, and all handicapped people are disabled, but a person can be impaired and not necessarily be disabled, and a person can be disabled without being handicapped.
The term "spastic" describes the attribute of spasticity in types of spastic CP. In 1952 a UK charity called The Spastics Society was formed. The term "spastics" was used by the charity as a term for people with CP. The word "spaz" has since been used extensively as a general insult to disabled people, which some see as extremely offensive. It is also frequently used to insult able-bodied people when they seem overly anxious or unskilled in sports. The charity changed its name to Scope in 1994. In the United States the word spaz has the same usage as an insult, but is not generally associated with CP.
Spastic Cerebral Palsy, the most common form of CP, causes the muscles to be tense, rigid and movements are slow and difficult. This can be misinterpreted as cognitive delay due to difficulty of communication. Individuals with cerebral palsy can have learning difficulties, but sometimes it is the sheer magnitude of problems caused by the underlying brain injury that prevents the individual from expressing what cognitive abilities they do possess.
Thomas Galton believed that there was a correlation between physical disability and aptitude, and this attitude remained prevalent as concerned CP until the 1970s. At this time, CP was an over diagnosed disorder, and a common misunderstanding then and now is that CP causes mental retardation. In fact, only CP individuals with brain damage in the hippocampus or the frontal cerebral cortex develop mental retardation. While learning difficulties and CP may be associated, it is common for individuals with CP to lead normal lives.