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Cerebral Palsy
Overview

Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder that affects 764,000 babies, children, and adults. It occurs when the brain is injured or malformed before birth. Affected children and people have poor muscle control and movement. There is an estimated 8,000 babies born with cerebral palsy in the United States each year.

What Is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is the name for an impairment of motor function that is caused by brain damage. It causes loss of motor control to the muscles and prevents coordinated movements. People with CP have trouble controlling their muscles, have poor reflexes, poor posture, and maintaining good balance. There may also be issues with motor skills, speaking, and eating.

Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy

Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy

The symptoms of cerebral palsy usually appear at birth. They are:

Very stiff muscles or limp muscle tone
Trouble sucking
Unable to swallow
Weak crying
Seizure activity

As children grow, more symptoms appear like:

Muscle atrophy
Tooth decay (ineffective tooth brushing)
Sensitivity to touch and pain
Frequent falls
Skin issues from drooling

What Causes Cerebral Palsy?

Brain injury at birth or a congenital malformation cause CP. Actually, only 10 percent of cerebral palsy happens from brain injuries that occur while being born. Most cases are due to malformation of the brain or a brain injury during pregnancy. These could be due to maternal infection, maternal abuse, and many other factors. Babies with CP are shown to have had reduced oxygen levels to the brain and/or bleeding in the brain tissue.
Cerebral palsy can happen after a baby is born if they are exposed to certain factors that cause damage to the brain. Jaundice that is not treated can damage a baby’s still developing brain.

Risk Factors for Cerebral Palsy

Risk Factors for Cerebral Palsy

The risk of a baby being born with cerebral palsy is higher with the following health issues:

Maternal seizures that can reduce oxygen to the baby
Thyroid disease in the mother
German measles during pregnancy
Chicken pox during pregnancy
Toxoplasmosis (Pregnant women should not handle cat litter which can contain Toxoplasma)
Syphilis in the mother
Cytomegalovirus in the mother
Toxic substances (mercury, alcohol, drugs, and lead)
Severe jaundice in the baby
Prematurity (born prior to 37 weeks)
Twin or Triplet births
Birthweight less than 5 pounds
Breech birth

In infants, early cases of meningitis or encephalitis can cause brain and nervous system damage and increase the risk for CP after birth.

Diagnosing Cerebral Palsy

Diagnosing Cerebral Palsy

The diagnosis of CP may be very apparent at birth or may take some time to diagnose in milder cases. It can take up to two years to confirm the diagnosis through observation since there is no definitive test.

Parents usually notice their child is behaving differently than they should. Babies with CP do not meet the milestones of development on time. At birth, doctors run checks on all babies born to make sure they have appropriate reflexes and muscle tone. In more severe cases, the diagnosis may be made prior to leaving the hospital. The tests that can help confirm the diagnosis in any child include:

CT Scan
Cranial Ultrasound
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)

In cases that cannot be diagnosed right away, the pediatrician will monitor the developmental milestones, coordination, motor skills, and muscle tone. A referral may be made to a neurologist for further testing and evaluation.

Cerebral Palsy Treatment

Cerebral Palsy Treatment

Cerebral palsy is treated with a combination of therapies to improve the quality of life. There is no cure, but muscle control can be improved. Therapies include:

Medications. Medications aim to control pain and other symptoms. Some of the medications used are benzatropine (body movements), oxcarbazepine (Seizures), baclofen (relaxes muscles). For pain, NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications) are helpful. Some children need other medications to help control additional symptoms including stool softeners, anti-depressants, and steroids.

Physical and Occupational Therapy. These therapies help to strengthen muscles, improve muscle control, and teach children how to perform daily functions.

Adaptive Equipment. Therapists may choose to use splints and braces to help improve the use of limbs that are spastic. These can also help to perform daily functions and improve mobility. Some children may require special strollers and even progress into a wheelchair later in childhood.

Surgery. In severe cases, orthopedic surgery can help relieve some severe symptoms. Surgery can help correct and release tense muscles, fix curved bones, and improve walking. Surgery is usually followed by physical therapy to assist recovery. Other surgeries may be needed on the digestive tract, eyes, and hearing system to improve issues in these areas.

Lifestyle Changes for Cerebral Palsy

Lifestyle Changes for Cerebral Palsy

If you have a child with cerebral palsy, certain changes can make life easier for your child. These are some things you can do at home:

Allow Your Child to be Independent. Try to allow your child to do as much as he or she can by themselves. Even if it takes them a little while, they need to be as independent as possible. Assign them easy chores and tasks around the house so they can build confidence.

Join a Support Group. There may be local hospital or community based support groups that are centered on cerebral palsy. You will be able to share your feelings with other parents and hear input about how they handle the condition.

Speak Up on Behalf of Your Child. It is important to ask a lot of questions about your child’s care. If you don’t feel something is right, say something to your healthcare team. Take the time to do research and bring up anything you may find to your child’s doctor.

Take Care of Yourself. Caregivers of cerebral palsy sufferers can experience strain and fatigue. Take time for yourself to rest and de-stress.

Ask for Help. If you find yourself overwhelmed, ask friends and family for help. It may be as little as picking one of your other kids up from school, running an errand, or sitting with the kids while you get out of the house.

Give your Child Social Interactions. Cerebral palsy can be hard to talk about. Still, your child needs ample opportunities to socialize with other children. Take them to the park to play, get them involved in a play group, or sports tailored for special needs kids.

Alternative Medicine for Cerebral Palsy

Alternative Medicine for Cerebral Palsy

To date, no alternative medicine therapies have been shown to cure cerebral palsy. They may however have some effect on reducing the symptoms and increase comfort. These include:

Ginger. May increase blood flow to the muscles, increase oxygen to the brain, and get more nutrients into the cells.
Acupuncture. Acupuncture may help to relieve inflammation and pain in the body. It may also help with nerve transmissions to the muscles.
Echinacea. Echinacea may help calm muscle spasticity, increase circulation, and reduce pain in the body.

Cerebral Palsy Prevention

Cerebral Palsy Prevention

Some cases of cerebral palsy cannot be prevented. Cases that are due to premature birth and low birth weight may be preventable by getting prenatal care early in pregnancy.

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