Cerebral Palsy

What is it?

Cerebral palsy is a term used to describe a group of chronic conditions affecting body movement and muscle coordination. It is caused by damage to one or more specific areas of the brain, usually occurring during fetal development; before, during or shortly following birth; or during infancy. “Cerebral” refers to the brain and “palsy” to muscle weakness/poor control. Cerebral palsy itself is not progressive (i.e., it does not get worse); however, secondary conditions can develop which may get better over time, get worse, or remain the same. Cerebral palsy is not communicable. It is not a disease and should never be referred to as such. Although cerebral palsy is not “curable” in the accepted sense, training and therapy can help improve function.

What are the effects?

Cerebral palsy is characterized by an inability to fully control motor function, particularly muscle control and coordination. Depending on which areas of the brain have been damaged, one or more of the following may occur: muscle tightness or spasm; involuntary movement; disturbance in gait and mobility. In addition, the following may also occur: abnormal sensation and perception; impairment of sight, hearing or speech; seizures; and mental retardation. Other problems that may arise are difficulties in feeding, bladder and bowel control, problems with breathing because of postural difficulties, skin disorders because of pressure sores, and learning disabilities.

What are the causes?

A large number of factors which can injure the developing brain may produce cerebral palsy. One important cause is an insufficient amount of oxygen reaching the fetal or newborn brain. Oxygen supply can be interrupted by premature separation of the placenta from the wall of the uterus, awkward birth position of the baby, labor that is too long or too abrupt, or interference with circulation in the umbilical cord. Premature birth, low birth weight, RH or A-B-O blood type incompatibility between mother and infant, infection of the mother with German measles or other virus diseases in early pregnancy, and microorganisms that attack the infant’s central nervous system also are risk factors for cerebral palsy. Most causes of cerebral palsy are related to the developmental and childbearing processes and, since the condition is not inherited, the condition is often called congenital cerebral palsy. A less common type is acquired cerebral palsy, usually occurring before two years of age. Head injury is the most frequent cause, usually the result of motor vehicle accidents, falls, or child abuse; another cause is brain infection.

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