What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy (CP) is a neurological disorder which permanently affects muscular coordination and joints. There is no known cure. The term “palsy” refers to impaired motor functioning.
While the disorder affects muscle movements and its symptoms can include low muscle tone or muscles that seem overly tight, the true causes are neurological, which means they are rooted in the brain.
According to the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation, nearly 800,000 people directly suffer from the effects of cerebral palsy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate nearly 10,000 babies each year will eventually develop symptoms of this condition.
Despite extensive research and many medical advances, the rate of children who develop cerebral palsy has remained constant over the years.
What Causes Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy has many different causes. Many years ago, researchers believed birth complications caused cerebral palsy. That was true, but extensive research has shown at most 10% of babies who suffer from birth complications later develop cerebral palsy.
In a general sense, cerebral palsy results from one of the following causes:
- Periventricular leukomalacia (PVL), or damage to the white matter of the brain
- Cerebral dysgenesis, or abnormal development of the brain
- Intracranial hemorrhage, or bleeding in the brain
- Intrapartum asphyxia, or a lack of oxygen flow to the brain
- Head injury in infants and children
- Medical professional negligence
What Factors Increase The Risk of Cerebral Palsy?
Researchers have studied thousands of births to determine which factors cause cerebral palsy. Risk factors simply mean a condition is more likely to happen, not that it will happen. Here are just a few risk factors that increase the chances your child will be affected by cerebral palsy:
- An unusually low birthweight
- Premature birth
- Infection during pregnancy
- Exposure to toxic substances during pregnancy
- A complex birthing process
- Genetic predisposition
Many more factors than these exist, but now you have an idea of what increases the risk of cerebral palsy.
Can You Prevent Cerebral Palsy?
Unfortunately, genetic cerebral palsy cannot be prevented. However, some factors, such as exposure to toxic substances during pregnancy and infection during pregnancy, can be minimized.
You can prevent acquired cerebral palsy by supervising children while they are in the bathtub, ensuring children are always in car seats, and making sure they wear helmets while riding their bikes.
In many cases, the causes are completely unknown.
Are Other Conditions Associated with Cerebral Palsy?
Many people affected by cerebral palsy suffer no additional challenges. However, because the brain controls so many other functions, it is common for some people with cerebral palsy to struggle with additional challenges such as:
- Mental retardation
- Delayed physical growth
- Spinal deformation
- Abnormal sensory perception
How Can You Manage Cerebral Palsy?
Despite the fact that cerebral palsy remains impossible to prevent, many challenges presented by this condition can be successfully managed. In fact, many people affected by this condition go on to lead happy and successful lives.
In most cases, the earlier treatment begins, the better the long-term outcome will be for your child. There are many different therapeutic approaches to choose from, and no single approach works for everyone.
The important thing is that you work with professionals you trust. The amount of therapy required is extensive and can be costly. In most cases, you will meet regularly with a professional who will help you create a program to follow through with at home.
In general, therapy today focuses on helping individuals with cerebral palsy by helping them improve their posture, gross motor skills, speech skills, and reducing seizure frequency. The goal is always to help each individual become as independent as possible, and also to integrate successfully within his or her local community.
If you or your child is affected by cerebral palsy, remember that there is always hope. The journey is not easy, but a better quality of life is possible.