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Cerebral palsy

The words "cerebral palsy" or (CP) may conjure up an image of a twisted, wheel chair-bound child. But sometimes the disease is so mild it doesn't limit any activity at all. Let's talk about cerebral palsy.

So, what causes cerebral palsy?

CP is caused by injuries or abnormalities of the brain. Most of the problems occur as the baby grows in the womb. Premature babies have a slightly higher risk of developing CP. Cerebral palsy may also occur during early infancy as a result of several conditions, including Bleeding in the brain, Brain infections, Head injuries, infections in the mother during pregnancy or from severe jaundice.

CP can affect one limb, one side of the body, both arms or legs, three limbs, or all four limbs. The limbs might be floppy, rigid, or spastic. They might have a tremor, move on their own, or be uncoordinated. The limbs might function so well most people would not notice, or they might even be unusable. Children with CP might have normal or superior intellect. Up to a quarter of children with CP have developmental delays or mental retardation.

Your child's doctor will do a full neurological exam of your child to verify the symptoms. Tests might include a CT scan or MRI of the head, an EEG, and vision and hearing tests.

There is no cure for CP. The goal of treatment is to help your child be as independent as possible. Your child may need a team consisting of a primary care doctor, dentist, social worker, nurses, specialists, and occupational, physical, and speech therapists.

A variety of medicines can prevent or reduce the frequency of seizures, help with spasticity, and treat tremors.

CP is a lifelong disorder. But with good care it shouldn't get worse over time. CP varies in each individual... your child may need lifelong care, or your child may be able to live independently. It all depends on the severity of your child's CP. Keep in mind that stress and burnout among parents of children with severe CP is common, so make sure that you get the support you need, as well as the support for your child.

Review Date: 2/18/2016
Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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