Cerebral Palsy (CP) is an umbrella term for a group of illnesses that affect an individual’s ability to move, maintain posture, and balance. CP is the third most common motor impairment in childhood. Palsy can have severe consequences for an individual and can interfere with day-to-day activities. While many people tend to associate cerebral palsy with blindness, it can actually stem from a wide range of conditions and lead to much more serious disabilities.
There are four broad categories of cerebral palsy. These are stroke, birth defects, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease. A stroke results from a blood clot in the brain or from a lack of blood flow in the body. Birth defects can be from genetic malfunctions or be the result of infection during pregnancy or labor. Multiple sclerosis can result from damage to the nerves or from a reaction to certain medications.
A recent breakthrough in the diagnosis of cerebral palsy is the presence of MRI scans that can pinpoint the location and cause of symptoms. Other diagnostic tools include CT (computerized tomography) scans and EEGs (electroencephalographs) that can detect brainstem lesions. Often with traumatic brain injuries, the symptoms from CP will mimic those from other diseases. When the diagnosis is made, the doctor may consider treating the symptoms with medications.
Treating symptoms of cerebral palsy is often difficult because muscle tone is normal until a child is at least 4 years old, after which there is typically atrophy or loss of muscle control. This is why it has been found that most children with CP eventually become quadriplegic. Once a diagnosis of CP has been obtained, treatment is aimed at restoring motor control. Therapy may include manual resistance exercise, special exercises for gross motor skills, and gait correction devices.
Milder forms of cerebral palsy often affect only one side of the brain or both hemispheres. In these cases, there are ways to manage the child’s symptoms. Some researchers believe that genetics and neurological conditions that increase vulnerability to develop cerebral palsy also contribute to more severe forms of the disorder. Researchers have not established whether exposure to electromagnetic fields affects the development of cerebral palsy.
The diagnosis of cerebral palsy can lead to early intervention to minimize the disability and delay the development of this condition. Treatment of symptoms usually requires a combination of medicine, physical therapy, and behavioral training. If CP develops more severely, such as when muscles are paralyzed or the ability to walk and hear is affected, more radical treatments may be needed. Therapy and medications to support brain growth and development are critical to preventing loss of ability to perform daily tasks in adults.
Risk factors for developing brain damage include head injury, meningitis, encephalopathy, and perinatal anoxia. Women are at a lower risk than men, for a variety of reasons. Head injury increases the risk for milder forms of cerebral palsy, such as ataxia, gross motor skills disability, and swallowing difficulties. Meningitis and encephalopathy increase the risk for more serious developmental issues, such as learning disabilities and later learning disabilities associated with learning disorders.
There are many medical treatments available for cerebral palsy and a variety of therapies are used to treat different symptoms. Depending on the severity of the condition and the severity of the patient’s symptoms, different treatments may be required. Doctors determine the best course of treatment for each patient according to their individual needs and the goals for their recovery. If CP is diagnosed, it’s important to work closely with your doctor to develop a treatment plan and keep the CP diagnosis in mind throughout the treatment process. With early intervention and a good treatment plan, many children with CP can enjoy a long, successful life.