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Cerebral Palsy Overview

Michael Becker

One of the most commonly mentioned birth defects is Cerebral Palsy (CP), which affects 1 in every 278 children according to recent estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Cerebral Palsy is a neurological disorder that affects mobility and muscle control.

Signs of Cerebral Palsy can be seen in the first few weeks of life in newborns but may not be diagnosed until years later. Diagnosis depends on the severity of symptoms and proper medical analysis. While CP cannot be completely cured, treatments are available to improve muscle function and control and help your child live a more normal life.

Causes of Cerebral Palsy

There are many reasons a child may be afflicted with Cerebral Palsy. The disorder is commonly associated with birth injuries such as lack of oxygen or head trauma during the delivery process. Genetic conditions may also result in development of this birth defect.

The development of Cerebral Palsy in a child after birth is not as common but still occurs because of several factors. Some brain infections such as bacterial meningitis and viral encephalitis can cause damage resulting in CP. Early instances of head trauma from childhood accidents or child abuse can also result in the development of Cerebral Palsy.

Cerebral Palsy develops when there are abnormalities in the areas of the brain that control muscle movement. Therefore, many types of birth injury or infant injury can potentially cause your child to develop CP. The severity of the effects of CP depends on the severity of the injury.

Signs of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy is one of the many birth defects that are more easily treated the earlier it is detected. Both parents and doctors must be diligent in looking for the signs of CP in a newborn so treatment can begin as soon as possible. The signs may differ at various stages of life:

  • 2-6 months: difficulty controlling head and/or stiff legs that cross or “scissor” when child is picked up;
  • 6-10 months: continued difficulty controlling head movement, can reach with only one hand while fisting the other;
  • 10-12 months: crawls by pushing off with one hand and leg while dragging the other side, cannot sit by themselves;
  • 1-2 years: has not crawled, cannot stand without support;
  • 2+ years: cannot walk, cannot push a wheeled toy.

Any abnormalities in your child’s movement or signs of delayed development in motor skills should be discussed with your doctor. There are many birth defects similar to Cerebral Palsy that can also cause these conditions.

Treatment for Cerebral Palsy

While there is no cure for Cerebral Palsy there are many types of treatments that can help your child live with the disorder. Many children with CP learn to walk with the use of crutches or walkers. Physical therapists can help children with mild CP strengthen muscle control with special exercises, and some medications have shown to increase muscle control or decrease involuntary muscle spasms.

The earlier you begin treatment for CP the more well-adjusted your child can be in the future. Early familiarity with assistive devices or other treatment methods will help your child cope better with development. New therapies and treatments are constantly being evaluated and developed to help those who live with CP lead near-normal lives.

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