The First Diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy
The term diagnosis comes from two greek words: dia, meaning across and gnosis, meaning to know. Greeks defined the word as understanding or learning what is happening across a subject or object. More easily defined, diagnosis means to detect, learn or identify the nature of a problem.
When a child has cerebral palsy, a parent usually makes the first diagnosis of the disorder. They detect their child is abnormally floppy or rigid. They identify differences in their child from other children. Parents learn about developmental milestones their children should be achieving and recognize a delay in doing so.
Why Aren’t Babies Diagnosed With Cerebral Palsy When They Are Born?
Cerebral Palsy is difficult to diagnose at birth. Since it’s not a genetic disease there is no way to check a baby’s blood to see if they are carriers. Cerebral Palsy is a term describing a group of disorders caused by brain damage. Brain damage is almost undetectable in newborns unless it’s severe. Symptoms in infants such as abnormal floppiness or rigidity can lead a doctor to diagnose cerebral palsy. However, these symptoms aren’t usually present at birth.
How Do Doctors Diagnose Cerebral Palsy?
Doctors are usually alerted by concerned parents about suspected problems. The doctor will ask detailed questions about pre-natal care, problems with pregnancy, a mother’s heath while pregnancy, pre-maturity and the heath of the child since birth. The doctor will perform a full physical exam. Once the doctor examines the child for general health issues, they begin tests to help determine potential disability. Since cerebral palsy is a non-progressive disorder, the symptoms a child initially displays will usually determine the severity they will endure for a lifetime.
Diagnosis by Reflex Testing
After speaking with parents about a child’s development, a doctor will check for excessive muscle tone and abnormal posture. The doctor also tests a child’s reflexes. Cerebral palsy children often retain some reflexes only known in infants under the age of 6 months. One of those reflexes is called the Moro Reflex. It occurs when a baby under six months old is held in its back with its feet raised above its head. The baby reflexively reaches up in an embracing gesture. The Moro reflex occurring after 6 months of age could indicate cerebral palsy.
Cerebral Palsy and Hand Preference
Doctors often quiz mothers of babies with potential cerebral palsy about their child’s hand preference. Most children don’t have any left or right hand preference until they reach 12 months old. Babies with cerebral palsy often show hand preference as young as 6 months old. Spastic hemiplegia, one form of cerebral palsy, causes one side of the body to be stronger than the other. Early hand preference is often a symptom of that form of the disorder.
CT Scans EEG and MRI Diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy
CT is short for the words computed tomography, an x-ray imaging technique that uses computers to create a picture of the brain. Brain malformation, cysts and underdevelopment are usually visible on a CT scan. By studying CT scans, doctors can determine how severe a child might be brain damaged. The amount of brain damage helps determine how severely a child will be affected by the symptoms of cerebral palsy.
MRI is short for magnetic resonance imaging, a brain imaging technique using radio waves and magnetic fields to create a picture of the brain. MRIs can look closer to the bone for abnormalities than CT scans. Electroencephalogram, or EEG for short, records electrical currents in the brain with special patches attached to the scalp. It’s used to help detect seizure disorders and unusual electrical activity in the brain.
Diagnosis with Vision, Hearing and Intelligence Tests
Doctors will often bring in other heath professionals to help determine if other conditions related to cerebral palsy are present. Ophthalmologists test a child for vision problems or weakness in the ocular muscles. Doctors specializing in hearing problems test for deficiencies in auditory ranges. Some doctors administer intelligence tests to try and find mental impairment but they tend to be useful only when a child is older than the age of 4. Orthopedic doctors can be consulted for gait analysis. Certain forms of cerebral palsy result in a wide stance and an unbalanced walk.
Early diagnosis is key in helping children lessen the effects of cerebral palsy. Although it’s hard for a parent to accept something might be wrong with their child, they should consult a doctor at the first sign of developmental delay.