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"Cerebral palsy" is a general term for a group of disorders that appear during the first few years of life and affect a child's ability to coordinate body movements. Cerebral palsy can cause muscles to be weak and floppy, or rigid and stiff.
Complications of Cerebral Palsy
Besides difficulty with movement and posture, cerebral palsy may result in:
Some children with cerebral palsy will have multiple handicaps and may require long term care. Some of the associated problems may include:
Causes of Cerebral Palsy
Most cases of cerebral palsy are believed to be caused by problems that occur before the baby is born, although some cases have been linked to brain injuries or infections during the first few months or years of life. Doctors can't always determine the root cause of the brain damage that results in cerebral palsy. Potential causes include:
Cerebral palsy has been linked to a variety of infectious diseases occurring either in the mother during pregnancy or in the infant during the first few months of life.
Maternal illnesses that have been linked to cerebral palsy include:
Infant illnesses that have been linked to cerebral palsy include:
Some children have cerebral palsy because their brains didn't develop properly while in the womb. In most cases, doctors don't know why this happens. In some instances, however, mutations in the genes responsible for brain development can prevent the brain from developing normally. Exposure to toxins, radiation or infections increases the risk.
Although strokes are more commonly associated with older people, they can happen at any age — even before birth. Strokes can occur when clots in the placenta interrupt the flow of blood to the baby. Strokes can also occur if malformed or weak blood vessels leak blood into the brain.
Lack of oxygen
For many years, doctors and researchers believed that cerebral palsy was caused by a lack of oxygen during birth. Now they believe that only a small number of cases are caused by problems during labor and delivery.
Jaundice is common in newborns. But severe cases of untreated jaundice can harm the brain permanently and may result in cerebral palsy.
Signs & Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy
In general, children with cerebral palsy exhibit a wide variety of signs and symptoms, ranging from mild to severe. They may include:
The brain injury causing cerebral palsy doesn't change with time, so the symptoms usually don't worsen with age. Other neurological disorders — such as mental retardation or seizures — also may occur in children with cerebral palsy.
Diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy
Early signs of cerebral palsy may be present from birth. But if signs and symptoms are mild, it may be difficult to make a definite diagnosis before the age of 4 or 5. In most cases, cerebral palsy is diagnosed by age 1 or 2.
Diagnostic tests may include:
If your baby is born prematurely and is at high risk of cerebral palsy, your doctor may suggest a cranial ultrasound because it is the least intrusive of the imaging techniques used to visualize the brain. Cranial ultrasound, however, provides a less detailed image than does a CT scan or an MRI. An MRI reveals the most details, which help determine a cause and a prognosis.
If your child has had seizures, your doctor may recommend an electroencephalogram (EEG) to check for epilepsy. In an EEG test, a series of electrodes must be affixed to your child's scalp. The procedure is painless and records the electrical activity inside your child's brain.
Your child's blood may need to be checked to help rule out other conditions — such as blood-clotting disorders that can cause strokes — that may mimic cerebral palsy signs and symptoms. Lab tests may also screen for genetic or metabolic problems.
Treatments of Cerebral Palsy
The brain abnormality or damage that underlies cerebral palsy doesn't worsen with time, but children with cerebral palsy often require long term care. The type and amount of treatment depend on how many problems your child has and how severe they are.
Surgical or other procedures
Prevention of Cerebral Palsy
Most cases of cerebral palsy can't be prevented, despite the best efforts of parents and doctors. But, if you're pregnant, you can take these steps to keep healthy and minimize the possibility of pregnancy complications:
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