Types of and Causes of Cerebral Palsy

 Cerebral   palsy  is not a disease it is a condition.  Cerebral  refers to the brain and  palsy  means weakness or lack of muscle control. In addition,  cerebral   palsy  is not a single problem, but a complex disease in which virtually all brain cell types could need repair. Approximately 90 percent of all cases are caused by brain injury during the prenatal period (before labor begins). This condition is caused by damage to brain cells that control the movement of muscles. A person with  cerebral   palsy  can have mild to severe physical disabilities. There are varying degrees of therapies depending on the degree of condition. However, just because a person has  cerebral   palsy , it does not mean they will have other disabilities.

Causes and Risks

Recent studies suggest that  cerebral   palsy  is mostly due to factors affecting the brain before birth. In about 70 percent of cases,  cerebral   palsy  results from events occurring before birth that can disrupt normal development of the brain. This condition is caused by an injury to the brain during pregnancy, at birth, or shortly after birth. The symptoms are usually not noticeable at birth. It was previously assumed that it was caused by fetal distress, such as a lack of oxygen, during the birth process. However, lack of oxygen at birth has not been shown to be the major cause. The motor deficits of babies are usually unrecognizable before 4-6 months of age.

A preemie’s risk of  cerebral   palsy  is much higher than that of a full-term baby. In addition, exposure to herpes group B viruses was associated with a two-fold increase in risk. Reproductive/urinary tract infections also may increase the risk in a preterm delivery. Preemie’s are already at risk for  cerebral   palsy  and account for approximately one-third of the cases. Adequate prenatal care may reduce the risk of the unborn baby.

Viral infections, lead poisoning, or head injuries that occur early in life can result in acquired  cerebral   palsy , a less common condition. Spastic  cerebral   palsy , the most common type, is a condition in which there is too much muscle tone. However,  cerebral   palsy  is NOT a progressive condition, meaning that it does not worsen over time.  Cerebral   palsy  generally is a long-lasting (chronic) condition.

There are roughly 8,000 infants born with this condition each year and some 1,200-1,500 preschool age children acquire  cerebral   palsy  annually. Most children are diagnosed by age 5. Despite significant improvements in obstetric and neonatal care in recent years, the incidence of  cerebral   palsy  has not decreased.


Athetoid  cerebral   palsy  affects the ability to control muscles, leading to involuntary and uncontrolled movements in the affected muscles

Spastic  cerebral   palsy  is the most common type of  cerebral   palsy . Approximately 60 percent of all individuals with  cerebral   palsy  have spasticity that is characterized by tense, contracted muscles. Doctors will often describe which type of spastic  cerebral   palsy  a patient has, based on which limbs are affected.

Ataxic  cerebral   palsy  affects the sense of balance and depth perception. Children who suffer from ataxic  cerebral   palsy  can be described as being very shaky and unsteady.


Children with  cerebral   palsy  may develop eating difficulties, bladder and bowel control problems, breathing problems, and learning disabilities. Children with  cerebral   palsy  have limited use of their arms due to the dysfunction of their neural motor control and stiffness of their joints. Dysarthria is common in people with  cerebral   palsy , due to problems involving the muscles that control speech and mastication. Although  Cerebral   Palsy  is a permanent condition, as a person learns and grows and practices skills, more control over movement may be achieved.


Treatment of  cerebral   palsy  requires a team of specialists to help maximize and coordinate movement, minimize discomfort and pain, and prevent long-term complications. Because the symptoms of  cerebral   palsy  can cause behavioral and emotional problems, many children benefit from counseling or behavior therapy. It is also not “curable” in the accepted sense, although education, therapy, and applied technology can help persons with  cerebral   palsy  lead productive lives.

The goal of drug therapy is to reduce the effects and prevent complications. Physical, speech, and occupational therapy along with counseling today are employed to help people lead healthy, productive lives. Most children with  cerebral   palsy  benefit from early and regular physical and occupational therapy. In addition, education, therapy, and applied technology can help persons with  cerebral   palsy  lead productive lives.


With early and ongoing treatment, the disabilities associated with  cerebral   palsy  can be reduced. People living with  cerebral   palsy  are usually able to live independently in the community, with or without assistance. With support and treatment, though, many people with  cerebral   palsy  can live healthy, happy lives.