We have all heard the term cerebral palsy, but do we really know what it is?
Cerebral palsy, or CP, is a term used to describe a group of chronic conditions affecting body movement and muscle coordination. According to the United Cerebral Palsy, CP affects about 764,000 children and adults in the U.S. and its prevalence rate is about 3.3 per 1,000 births. There are approximately 8,000 infants and babies each year in the U.S. diagnosed with CP. In addition, there are 1,200 to 1,500 pre-schoolers diagnosed with CP each year.
It is caused by damage to one or more specific areas of the brain, which usually occurs during fetal development, according to the United Cerebral Palsy Research and Educational Foundation. However, the damage can also occur before, during or shortly after birth, or even during infancy.
It is faulty development or damage to motor areas in the brain which interrupts the brain’s ability to effectively control movement and posture.
To help raise awareness for CP, March is designated as Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month.
Symptoms of CP
CP is characterized by an inability to completely control motor function, in particular muscle control and coordination. The symptoms can vary among people with cerebral palsy: they can be very mild or very severe; they can involve one side of the body or both sides; and they can be more pronounced in either the arms or legs, or involve both the arms and legs.
The most common symptoms of CP include:
Very tight muscles that do not stretch.
Abnormal walk, such as arms tucked in toward the sides or knees crossed or touching.
Joints that are tight and don’t open all the way.
Muscle weakness or loss of movement in a group of muscles.
Other symptoms include:
Difficulty in swallowing.
Problems in speech.
Abnormal sensation and perception.
Impairment of sight, hearing or speech.
Difficulties in feeding.
Problems with breathing due to posture difficulties.
Skin disorders due to pressure sores.
Causes of CP
There is no single cause of CP, but rather a variety of causes.
Approximately 70 percent of children who have congenital cerebral palsy have it because of a brain injury during intra-uterine life. It is present at birth, but may not be detected for months. In addition, 20 percent of children are diagnosed with congenital CP due to a brain injury during the birthing process.
As for 10 percent of children with cerebral palsy in the U.S., they acquire the disorder after birth. Acquired CP results from brain damage in the first few months or years of life. It can result from brain infections, such as bacterial meningitis, or from head injuries, most often from a motor vehicle accident, a fall, or child abuse.
Update April 2012: A new treatment tested on rabbits born with cerebral palsy shows promising results and a potential breakthrough in treating humans. The study appears in the Science Translational Medicine journal. In the experiment, rabbits were treated with the drug NAC within six hours of their birth. The results showed almost near-normal mobility by day 5 after receiving the drug. Next, scientists will look at whether the mobility gains will continue into adulthood.
While CP is not “curable,” training and therapy can help improve a person’s function.
Managing cerebral palsy includes helping a child achieve the greatest potential in growth and development, which should begin as soon as the child is identified to have a brain disorder.
A management program, which can include physicians, therapists, educators, nurses, social workers and other professionals, can be started to assist the child and family. Medications, surgery and braces can be used to improve nerve and muscle coordination and to prevent or minimize dysfunction.
As individuals with cerebral palsy mature, they may require support services such as personal assistance services, continuing therapy, independent living services, transportation, recreation programs, and employment opportunities.
People with cerebral palsy can go to school, have jobs (both in the public sector and in workshop settings), get married, raise families, and live in the community. While some are able to live independently, others require different levels of help.
For more information about Cerebral Palsy, its' forms, causes, and diagnoses, check out My Child with CP.