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Understanding cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy starts in childhood and affects the ability to move.

Cerebral palsy is the name for a group of disorders that affect the ability to move.

The problems usually start in infancy or early childhood and remain throughout life, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

Cerebral palsy occurs when the brain areas that control motor skills don't develop correctly or are damaged. This makes it harder for the brain to control movement and posture. Symptoms include:

  • Trouble with fine motor skills, such as writing or using scissors.
  • Lack of muscle coordination.
  • Delays in reaching motor skill milestones.

The symptoms may vary from person to person, according to NINDS. In some cases the disease may not even cause a major disability.

Types of cerebral palsy

There are two types of cerebral palsy:

Acquired cerebral palsy results from brain damage during a child's first few months or years. It's typically caused by brain infections, such as bacterial meningitis, or a head injury.

Congenital cerebral palsy is due to brain damage that occurred before or during birth. According to NINDS, possible causes of congenital cerebral palsy include:

  • Genetic mutations that keep the brain from developing normally.
  • Infections or fever in the mother.
  • Bleeding in the brain.
  • Severe lack of oxygen.

Life with cerebral palsy

Parents are often the first to notice that a child's motor skills aren't developing properly. Signs of palsy in an infant may include:

  • Delays in learning to roll over, sit, crawl, smile or walk.
  • Increased muscle tone that makes the child seem rigid or stiff.
  • Decreased muscle tone that makes the infant look too relaxed.
  • Unusual posture or favoring one side of the body.

If you're worried that your child may have cerebral palsy, talk to your doctor. He or she can diagnose cerebral palsy and help with treatment and care.

Reviewed 11/7/2023

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