What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a condition usually caused when a part of the brain fails to develop fully. This may occur before birth or in early childhood. The area of the brain affected is often the part that controls muscles and movement.
There are three types of cerebral palsy. Many people have a combination of two or three types.
- Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common form and causes stiffness of the muscles and restricted joint movement. It may affect only certain areas of the body and can be termed as hemiplegia (affecting either the right or left side of the body), diplegia (affecting both legs but not arms), or quadriplegia (affecting both arms and legs).
- In dyskinetic cerebral palsy the muscles alternate between being tense and floppy - the affected person is unable to control this. This type of cerebral palsy may cause speech, breathing and hearing problems.
- Ataxic cerebral palsy causes difficulties in balancing and walking and may also cause shaky hand movements and irregular speech.
The severity of cerebral palsy varies greatly from one person to another. Some people may have hardly any symptoms while others may be severely affected. Cerebral palsy is not a progressive or degenerative condition, so it does not get worse.
Cerebral palsy is a relatively rare condition affecting around 1 in 400 children. Approximately 1,800 babies are diagnosed with cerebral palsy each year in the UK.
What are the causes of cerebral palsy?
Cerebral palsy is often the result of injury to the brain or failure of part of the brain to develop fully, either before birth or during early childhood. Possible causes for this include the following: the mother of the child having an infection during the early part of pregnancy; low birth weight; a difficult or premature birth in which the baby may not have been able to breathe properly; bleeding within the baby's brain; or, rarely, a genetic disorder. In many cases, there is no obvious cause.
What are the symptoms of cerebral palsy?
The symptoms vary widely from person to person. As mentioned above, they can be very mild and hardly noticeable, or severe causing multiple problems.
A child with cerebral palsy may have any of the following: stiffness in the muscles; muscle spasms or weakness; awkward or jerky movements; floppy movements; or unwanted movements, which are often started by another movement. These can result in various disabilities.
A child may have difficulty in balancing or walking. Speech may be difficult to understand due to an inability to control tongue and mouth movements. Some children may also have problems in eating and swallowing. Sometimes other parts of the brain are also affected resulting in sight, hearing, perception and learning difficulties. Patients with cerebral palsy may also suffer from epilepsy (seizures).
Most children with cerebral palsy have average or higher than average intelligence although they are often thought to have learning difficulties because of problems with speech or movement. A few children however, may also have learning difficulties perhaps in a specific area such as reading or arithmetic if a particular part of their brain is affected.
What treatment is available?
There is no cure for cerebral palsy. However, there are many ways in which a child with cerebral palsy can improve muscle control and reach their full potential. Health professionals such as physiotherapists and health visitors can help in teaching techniques to aid everyday activities and movements.
Further information available from:
6 Market Road
London N7 9PW
Tel: 020 7619 7100
- 0808 800 3333 (Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm)
Fact sheet provided by MIMS
Date last reviewed: September 2016