Cerebral palsy or CP is a general term that includes disabilities in the neurological functions involving movement and posture. It is a disorder that is non-progressive and begins from disruptions in the development of the child’s brain during pregnancy, at birth or after.
As of yet, cerebral palsy has no known cure. The only way to manage it is through medical intervention that includes prevention and treatment of possible complications that may occur as a result of the condition.
What causes cerebral palsy?
The cause or causes of congenital cerebral palsy has not yet been determined. However, it is known that children born under certain conditions are at the highest risk of developing it. These conditions are: premature birth, the presence of hemorrhage in the brain, an infant requiring a ventilator for more than 4 weeks, an undersized baby who doesn’t cry during the first 5 minutes after being delivered, internal system malformations in the kidneys, spine or heart and the occurrence of seizures.
A small number of incidents of cerebral palsy arise from head injuries during early childhood and may occur after severe malnutrition, infections or extreme head injuries during infancy or early childhood.
What are the types of cerebral palsy?
Spastic or athetoid cerebral palsy refers to movement problems while quadriplegia, hemiplegia and diplegia refers to certain body parts involved in the condition. Spastic cerebral palsy refers to the lack of ability to relax the muscles while athetoid CP refers to the lack of muscle movement control. The spastic type may also occur along with other types and this is usually true in about 30% of cerebral palsy cases.
Quadriplegia is the inability to control the muscles of the arms and legs as well as those of the neck and trunk. An individual with quadriplegia will not be able to walk or even to stand. Diplegia involves both legs while hemiplegia involves an arm and a leg on the same side. An individual with diplegia may be able to walk either independently or with the aid of crutches, canes or walkers.
Another type of cerebral palsy is ataxia, which is the inability to have control over balance and coordination. The degree of this condition varies from child to child and therefore generalizations cannot be made as easily.
How is it diagnosed?
Infants with cerebral palsy cannot perform normal developmental skills like basic motor functions such as reaching for an object, sitting on their own and even walking. Other than these developmental delays, a doctor may also consider abnormalities in the muscles and muscle tones, reflexes and movements.
It is often not easy to make a definite diagnosis of cerebral palsy because it requires an indefinite period of waiting. The child could be over one year old before cerebral palsy is diagnosed, or he could be two years old and discovered not to have the disorder after all.
Blood tests and x-rays will not establish cerebral palsy. They are only used to rule out other medical conditions that may be affecting the child’s development. Oftentimes, tests and scans like CT or Computed Tomography and MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging may be used. Again, these tests will not determine whether a child has cerebral palsy, but it will provide evidence of other conditions that may seem proof of cerebral palsy but are actually another medical condition altogether.
There is no single correct way of predicting what and how a child with cerebral palsy will be like when he grows older. However, by the time the child reaches the age of two, a doctor can determine if his condition is quadriplegia, diplegia or hemiplegia. These conditions may be used to inform the parents of what they could expect from then on.
It will also be very difficult to predict the degree of how motor and mental skills will be affected later on. In general, the child’s intellectual capability will determine how his motor or physical skills will fare in the future.
Medical problems related to cerebral palsy
Children suffering from cerebral palsy have problems such as mental retardation, learning disabilities, epilepsy, hyperactivity and attention deficit disorders. For children with conditions like spastic quadriplegia, common problems like difficulty in swallowing may also occur. A child with cerebral palsy will also require lifelong treatment and caregiving.