Cerebral palsy is a condition that is caused by abnormal brain development or brain damage in one or more parts of the brain that control the muscles and motor activity. This condition is usually diagnosed or seen in infancy or early childhood. Children who have cerebral palsy are more likely to be developmentally delayed and will be much slower to reach those developmental milestones such as sitting up, crawling and walking.
There are some things that are common to all of the forms of cerebral palsy. They include the ability to control muscles or have any coordination of muscles. Children with cerebral palsy may have problems with posture and balance upon standing and walking. They frequently have issues with muscle stiffness or may have very poor muscle tone. A lot of children experience jerking or uncontrolled movements with this disorder.
Other issues that are associated with this disorder are problems with hearing and vision. Children with this disorder frequently experience seizures, have mental retardation and have breathing or respiratory difficulties. Dental deformities, problems with eating and digestive problems have been reported with cerebral palsy as well.
So what are the causes of cerebral palsy? This condition can be caused as the infant’s brain is being developed in the uterus. It can also be caused by damage to the brain caused at birth or up until the toddler years. In years past, cerebral palsy has been linked with extremely difficult births where infants were deprived of oxygen at birth but now with improved healthcare techniques, the incidence has dropped to less than 10% of the reported cases of cerebral palsy. However, in many cases the cause of cerebral palsy is unknown.
Some known risk factors during pregnancy and after birth that have been linked with cerebral palsy include prenatal conditions of the infant’s mother including gestational diabetes, thyroid disorder, seizure disorder, and infections during pregnancy. Congenital birth defects which include neural tube defects or those affecting the spine or brain, head, lungs or those affecting metabolism are associated with this disorder. Complications of pregnancy such as premature birth, multiple birth, low birth weight Rh incompatibility and other inherited conditions may increase an infants risk of cerebral palsy. After birth an infant may be at higher risk if they develop an infection such as meningitis or their head is injured or if they become hypoxic or are deprived of oxygen.
The symptoms of cerebral palsy include the infant being delayed in their developmental milestones such as rolling over, sitting up, and crawling. These symptoms are not usually seen until the nervous system starts to develop. Other signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy can include a weakness or decreased muscle tone on one side of the body.
Cerebral palsy can range in severity from mild to very severe. The rating is dependant on the amount of brain damage that is noted. Some problems that are associated with cerebral palsy include abnormal muscle tone. Children may have increased muscle tone and be very stiff which can also be called spastic. They can also be at the other end of the spectrum and have decreased tone and the muscles be very floppy like.
These children also have very abnormal movement. Their movements can be jerky, stiff or abrupt. It can also appear to be very slow or seem to be uncontrolled at times. These children can also have severe stiffening of the joints due to the increased tone of the muscles listed above.
Children who have cerebral palsy frequently have skeletal deformities as well. They may have limbs on one side of the body that are much shorter than on the other side. If these are not corrected by surgery, they can cause problems with scoliosis which is an abnormal curving of the spine or with pelvic tilting in the future.
Parents who notice their child has not met or is very slow in meeting their developmental milestones, notice abnormal movement in their infant or toddler, or notice extreme weakness or inability of their child to use their arms, legs, or hands should contact their pediatrician immediately to have this addressed. Cerebral palsy has no cure however children can be treated. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to reducing the disabilities related to cerebral palsy as much as they possibly can.
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