by Kimberly Allen R.N.
Cerebral Palsy (CP) is another one of those “umbrella” terms that covers a group of disorders. CP results from damage to or abnormal growth of the developing brain that occurs anytime from early pregnancy to 3yrs. The damage occurs in the areas of the brain that processes information related to muscle tone and movement.
According to the CDC CP is the “most common motor disability in childhood”. CP is a significant health problem and the numbers are increasing. It is estimated that 2-3 children per 1,000 in the US have CP. Some believe that the increase in survival rates of premature infants has contributed to the over numbers of diagnosed CP cases.
CP is caused by damage that occurs to areas in the brain that control motor function, the muscles. The damage can occur when the brain is just starting to form early in pregnancy until the child is approximately 3years. For many years it was believed that CP occurred because of a lack of oxygen during the birth process. The fact is that oxygen deprivation during birth is a very rare cause of CP, estimates are less than 10% occur during birth. Now it is believed that 70-80% of diagnosed cases of CP begin before birth. There are a few that start between birth and 3years.
Over the years scientists have been able to link several factors associated with CP. Maternal medical problems before or during pregnancy such as infection, and thyroid or seizure disorders. Fetal birth defects, especially those that affect the brain or spinal cord. RH factor incompatibility as well as certain genetic and hereditary conditions are all factor that can affect the child during pregnancy. Premature birth and low birth weight infants are the leading causes for CP during birth. After birth to age 3 while the brain is still developing risk factors include infections like meningitis or head injury. The most common cause of CP because of head or brain injury is abuse, more specifically “shaken baby syndrome”.
There are 4 types of CP based on the type of motor impairment;
1. Spastic Cerebral Palsy is when the muscles and tendons are rigid due to increased muscle tone making movement extremely difficult. It most commonly affects only one side of the body but can affect both.
2. Choreoathetoid Cerebral Palsy, in this type the movements are more of an uncontrolled writhing movement involving the arms and/or legs. The muscle tone varies though is frequently decreased.
3.Hypotonic cerebral Palsy refers to the infants and children that have “rag doll syndrome”. This type is usually seen early in infancy when the infants are unable to raise their head. It is believed that this type of CP results from severe brain damage or malformation in the early stages of development.
4. Mixed Cerebral Palsy, most children with CP have a combination of the different types with multiple symptoms of each type affecting their motor function.
The symptoms of CP vary depending on the type or types of CP involved. However, there are some signs to watch for. If you know your child is at risk, for example if your child was premature, it’s important to watch the developmental milestones like rolling over, lifting the head or sitting up. Any alterations in this area warrants a visit to the Dr.
Though there is no cure for CP it is not a progressive disorder. That means that whatever damage is done is done, the damage does not increase over the child’s life time. For this reason early detection and intervention is crucial to achieve maximum functioning and quality of life. Treating CP effectively requires a team approach. In the early stages if possible you want a team that has a pediatrician with neurodevelopmental disorders, an orthopedic surgeon, a neurologist, as well as physical, speech and occupational therapists. This may sound like a lot but each member is crucial and provides independent contributions to the care of the child that will have a significant affect on that childs development.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.