What is cerebral palsy (CP)?
Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that cause problems with movement, balance, and posture. CP affects the cerebral motor cortex. This is the part of the brain that directs muscle movement. In fact, the first part of the name, cerebral, means having to do with the brain. The second part, palsy, means weakness or problems with using the muscles.
What are the types of cerebral palsy (CP)?
There are different types of CP:
- Spastic cerebral palsy, which is the most common type. It causes increased muscle tone, stiff muscles, and awkward movements. Sometimes it only affects one part of the body. In other cases, it can affect both arms and legs, the trunk, and the face.
- Dyskinetic cerebral palsy, which causes problems controlling the movement of the hands, arms, feet, and legs. This can make it hard to sit and walk.
- Ataxic cerebral palsy, which causes problems with balance and coordination.
- Mixed cerebral palsy, which means that you have symptoms of more than one type.
What causes cerebral palsy (CP)?
CP is caused by abnormal development or damage to the developing brain. It could happen when:
- The cerebral motor cortex doesn't develop normally during fetal growth
- There is an injury to the brain before, during, or after birth
Both the brain damage and the disabilities it causes are permanent.
Who is at risk for cerebral palsy (CP)?
CP is more common among boys than girls. It affects black children more often than white children.
- Being born too small
- Being born too early
- Being born a twin or other multiple birth
- Being conceived by in vitro fertilization (IVF) or other assisted reproductive technology (ART)
- An infection in the pregnant parent
- Health problems in the pregnant parent, such as thyroid problems
- Severe jaundice
- Having complications during birth
- Rh incompatibility
- Exposure to toxins
What are the signs of cerebral palsy (CP)?
There are many different types and levels of disability with CP. So the signs can be different in each child.
The signs usually appear in the early months of life. But sometimes there is a delay in getting a diagnosis until after age two. Infants with CP often have developmental delays. They are slow to reach developmental milestones such as learning to roll over, sit, crawl, or walk. They may also have abnormal muscle tone. They may seem floppy, or they may be stiff or rigid.
It's important to know that children without CP can also have these signs. Contact your child's health care provider know if your child has any of these signs, so you can get a correct diagnosis.
How is cerebral palsy (CP) diagnosed?
Diagnosing CP involves several steps:
- Developmental monitoring (or surveillance) means tracking a child's growth and development over time. If there are any concerns about your child's development, then he or she should have a developmental screening test as soon as possible.
- Developmental screening involves a giving your child a short test to check for motor, movement, or other developmental delays. If the screenings are not normal, the provider will recommend some evaluations.
- Developmental and medical evaluations are done to diagnose which disorder your child has. The provider many use many tools to make the diagnosis:
What are the treatments for cerebral palsy (CP)?
There is no cure for CP, but treatment can improve the lives of those who have it. It is important to begin a treatment program as early as possible.
A team of health professionals will work with you and your child to develop a treatment plan. Common treatments include:
- Assistive devices
- Physical, occupational, recreational, and speech therapy
Can cerebral palsy (CP) be prevented?
You cannot prevent the genetic problems that can cause CP. But it may be possible to manage or avoid some of the risk factors for CP. For example, making sure that pregnant women have been vaccinated could prevent certain infections that can cause CP in unborn babies. Using cars seats for infants and toddlers could prevent head injuries, which can be a cause of CP.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Treatments and Therapies
- Botulinum Toxin Injections: A Treatment for Muscle Spasms (American Academy of Family Physicians) Also in Spanish
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Cerebral Palsy (National Institutes of Health)
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
Find an Expert
- Caring for Your Child with Cerebral Palsy (CP): Ages 6-12 (Nemours Foundation) Also in Spanish
- Caring for Your Child with CP: Birth to Age 5 (Nemours Foundation) Also in Spanish
- Cerebral Palsy (For Parents) (Nemours Foundation) Also in Spanish
- Dietary Needs for Kids With Cerebral Palsy (Nemours Foundation) Also in Spanish
- Cerebral Palsy Checklist: Teens & Young Adult (13 to 21) (Nemours Foundation) Also in Spanish