Cerebral palsy is a disorder that affects body movement and posture which is caused by a brain injury or defective brain growth. It causes reflex movements that a person can’t control and muscle tightness that may affect the arms and legs, and sometimes the entire body. Seizures, retardation, and hearing and vision problems often occur in people with cerebral palsy. These symptoms can range from mild to severe. It is estimated that cerebral palsy affects about 1 in every 250 children. Learning that your child has cerebral palsy is not easy, and raising a child who has it can be very demanding and expensive.
The most common cause of cerebral palsy is delivery of the baby before the brain is fully developed. Babies born in the range of 26-30 weeks gestational age have a much higher risk of developing cerebral palsy. But even a baby born at term can develop cerebral palsy if there is abnormal asphyxia or hypoxia during the delivery.
The diagnosis of cerebral palsy is generally made after birth, when there is evidence of either developmental delay or a movement disorder or both. Many children who have the symptoms of cerebral palsy do not get officially diagnosed until after age two. Because cerebral palsy can have lifelong consequences to both the baby and the family, any time a baby is diagnosed with cerebral palsy there should be a careful investigation of the facts and circumstances surrounding the labor and delivery to determine if hypoxia or asphyxia could have been prevented. In many cases evidence in the medical records will show problems during labor that should have led to action that would have prevented the cerebral palsy.
It is important for a cerebral palsy patient to get all necessary treatment and to recognize that treatments such as physical therapy may be lifelong needs. Treatment for cerebral palsy usually involves a team of specialists such as a primary care physician, neurologist, orthopedist, physical therapist, speech therapist and occupational therapist. Since cerebral palsy is not a condition that currently can be cured, it is often necessary for people with this condition to receive treatment from specialists their entire lives.