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All You Need To Know About Cerebral Palsy

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Jul 23, 2021

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Image Credit: Science Photo Library

It is estimated that more than 17 million people globally live with cerebral palsy. Research suggests that cerebral palsy is the most common of all childhood motor disabilities, and it is diagnosed more often in boys than in girls. In India, about 15-20% of physically disabled children are affected by cerebral palsy.

What is cerebral palsy?

The word “cerebral” refers to the brain’s cerebrum, which regulates motor function; “palsy” denotes problems with muscular control in different parts of the body. Essentially, cerebral palsy is a group of neurological disorders and disabilities originating in the brain and affecting movement, posture, gait, muscle tone, and coordination of movement, among others.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S., “all people with [cerebral palsy] have problems with movement and posture.” However, the issues can range from mild to severe, sometimes even preventing an affected individual from walking.

“Many also have related conditions such as intellectual disability; seizures; problems with vision, hearing, or speech; changes in the spine (such as scoliosis); or joint problems (such as contractures),” the CDC states. Research suggests that 1 in 4 children with cerebral palsy cannot talk, 1 in 3 cannot walk, 1 in 2 lives with an intellectual disability, and 1 in 4 has epilepsy.

Cerebral palsy can be both “congenital,” i.e., one can be born with it, and “acquired,” when it affects an individual after their birth. However, the condition doesn’t progress through the course of an affected individual’s life — meaning, it won’t get worse with time. But its severity — as well as improper management — can reduce one’s lifespan.

There are different types of cerebral palsy: spastic cerebral palsy, which causes increased muscle tone and stiff, jerky movements; dyskinetic cerebral palsy, which results in difficulty controlling muscle movements; ataxic cerebral palsy, which is characterized by poor balance, and limited coordination, among others; and mixed cerebral palsy, which includes characteristics of two or more of the other types.


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What are the symptoms of cerebral palsy?

Given the different types and sub-types of cerebral palsy, as well as the range of co-occurring conditions, experts note no two people experience the condition in quite the same way. “[E]ach child will have a unique and individual experience of cerebral palsy,” an article by Cerebral Palsy Guidance reads.

Below is a non-exhaustive list of the ways in which cerebral palsy can manifest in an individual:

  • Variations in muscle tone — like being too “stiff” or too “floppy”;
  • Exaggerated reflexes;
  • Involuntary movements or tremors;
  • Delays in speech development or in sitting up or crawling;
  • Favoring one side of the body;
  • Difficulty walking;
  • Problems with eating or swallowing; and
  • Seizures

What causes cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy can result from abnormalities in brain development or even due to injuries to the brain. Whatever the damage, it usually occurs before birth but can also take place during birth or in the first few years of an individual’s life. However, medical practitioners often struggle to pinpoint the exact cause for a specific individual.

The wide range of causes may include:

  • Gene mutations resulting in abnormal brain development;
  • Infections like chickenpox, Zika virus, herpes, and syphilis, among others, occurring during pregnancy;
  • Disruption of blood supply to the developing brain during pregnancy;
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain during labor or delivery;
  • Severe jaundice in infancy;
  • Infections like encephalitis and meningitis that affect the brain; and
  • Head injuries.

Can cerebral palsy be treated?

Cerebral palsy is a lifelong disability, and there is no known cure for it yet.

Treatment for the condition is aimed at preventing complications arising from the condition or addressing challenges an individual may seek to work on. The treatment options include usage of assistive aids for vision, hearing, or walking and physical therapy to improve balance, flexibility, mobility, and posture.

The treatment could also involve medications like muscle relaxants. In some cases, surgery might also be an option, especially to reduce chronic pain, release tight muscles, or correct bone abnormalities.

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Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an associate editor with The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, and a painter by shaukh. She has her own podcast called #DateNightsWithD on Spotify. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.

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