Cerebral palsy (CP) is a physical disability that affects movement and posture.
Cerebral palsy (CP) is an umbrella term that refers to a group of disorders affecting a person’s ability to move. It is a permanent life-long condition, but generally does not worsen over time. It is due to damage to the developing brain either during pregnancy or shortly after birth.
Cerebral palsy affects people in different ways and can affect body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance. People who have cerebral palsy may also have visual, learning, hearing, speech, epilepsy and intellectual impairments
An individual with cerebral palsy will likely show signs of physical impairment. However, the type of movement dysfunction, the location and number of limbs involved, as well as the extent of impairment, will vary from one individual to another. It can affect arms, legs, and even the face; it can affect one limb, several, or all.
Cerebral palsy affects muscles and a person’s ability to control them. Muscles can contract too much, too little, or all at the same time. Limbs can be stiff and forced into painful, awkward positions. Fluctuating muscle contractions can make limbs tremble, shake, or writhe.
Balance, posture, and coordination can also be affected by cerebral palsy. Tasks such as walking, sitting, or tying shoes may be difficult for some, while others might have difficulty grasping objects.
Other complications, such as intellectual impairment, seizures, and vision or hearing impairment also commonly accompany cerebral palsy.
Every case of cerebral palsy is unique to the individual. One person may have total paralysis and require constant care, while another with partial paralysis might have slight movement tremors but require little assistance. This is due in part by the type of injury and the timing of the injury to the developing brain.
Cerebral palsy is the result of a combination of events either before, during or after birth that can lead to an injury in a baby’s developing brain.
There is no single cause of cerebral palsy. For most babies born with cerebral palsy, the cause remains unknown. Researchers now know that only a very small percentage of cases of cerebral palsy are due to complications at birth (e.g. asphyxia or lack of oxygen). Today, it is accepted that cerebral palsy usually arises from a series of causal pathways, i.e. a sequence of events that when combined can cause or accelerate injury to the developing brain.
Risk factors do not cause cerebral palsy. However, the presence of some risk factors may lead to an increased chance of a child being born with cerebral palsy.
Some risk factors for cerebral palsy have been identified. These include:
- premature birth (less than 37 weeks)
- low birth weight (small for gestational age)
- blood clotting problems (thrombophilia)
- an inability of the placenta to provide the developing feotus with oxygen and nutrients
- RH or A-B-O blood type incompatibility between mother and baby
- infection of the mother with German measles or other viral diseases in early pregnancy
- bacterial infection of the mother, foetus or baby that directly or indirectly attacks the infact’s central nervous system
- Prolonged loss of oxygen during the pregnancy or birthing process, or severe jaundice shortly after birth.
- Cerebral palsy is incurable
Cerebral palsy is damage to the brain that cannot currently be fixed. The brain does not “heal” as other parts of the body might. Because of this, the cerebral palsy itself will not change for better or worse during a person’s lifetime. On the other hand, associative conditions may improve or worsen over time. Treatment and therapy help manage effects on the body.
- Cerebral palsy is non-life-threatening
With the exception of children born with a severe case, cerebral palsy is considered to be a non-life-threatening condition. Most children with cerebral palsy are expected to live well into adulthood.
- Cerebral palsy is non-progressive
The brain lesion is the result of a one-time brain injury and will not produce further degeneration.
- Cerebral palsy is not contagious; it is not communicable
In the majority of cases, cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the developing brain. Brain damage is not spread through human contact. However, a person can intentionally or unintentionally increase the likelihood a child will develop cerebral palsy through abuse, accidents, medical malpractice, negligence, or the spread of a bacterial or viral infection.
- Cerebral palsy is manageable
The impairment caused by cerebral palsy is manageable. In other words, treatment, therapy, surgery, medications and assistive technology can help maximize independence, reduce barriers, increase inclusion and thus lead to an enhanced quality-of-life.
- Cerebral palsy is chronic
The effects of cerebral palsy are long-term, not temporary. An individual diagnosed with cerebral palsy will have the condition for their entire life.