Cerebral palsy (CP) is a disorder that affects muscle tone, movement, and motor skills (the ability to move in a coordinated and purposeful way). Cerebral palsy can also lead to other health issues, including vision, hearing, and speech problems, and learning disabilities.
CP is usually caused by brain damage that occurs before or during a child’s birth, or during the first 3 to 5 years of a child’s life. There is no cure for CP, but treatment, therapy, special equipment, and, in some cases, surgery can help a child who is living with the condition.
About Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy is one of the most common congenital (existing before birth or at birth) disorders of childhood.
The three types of CP are:
- Spastic cerebral palsy — causes stiffness and movement difficulties
- Athetoid cerebral palsy — leads to involuntary and uncontrolled movements
- Ataxic cerebral palsy — causes a disturbed sense of balance and depth perception
Cerebral palsy affects muscle control and coordination, so even simple movements — like standing still — are difficult. Other vital functions that also involve motor skills and muscles — such as breathing, bladder and bowel control, eating, and learning — may also be affected when a child has CP. Cerebral palsy does not get worse over time.
Causes of Cerebral Palsy
The exact causes of most cases of CP are unknown, but many are the result of problems during pregnancy in which the brain is either damaged or doesn’t develop normally. This can be due to infections, maternal health problems, or something else that interferes with normal brain development. Problems during labor and delivery can cause CP in some cases.
Premature babies — particularly those who weigh less than 3.3 pounds (1,510 grams) — have a higher risk of CP than babies that are carried full-term, as are other low birth weight babies and multiple births, such as twins and triplets.
Brain damage in infancy or early childhood can also lead to CP. A baby or toddler might suffer this damage because of lead poisoning, bacterial meningitis, malnutrition, being shaken as an infant (shaken baby syndrome), or being in a car accident while not properly restrained.