Cerebral palsy is a group of neurological disorders usually caused by brain abnormalities early in development. The disorders affect muscle coordination and body movement. Most children are born with cerebral palsy, but symptoms may not be detected until months or years later.
There are three types of cerebral palsy:
- Spastic cerebral palsy – stiff muscles with jerky movement
- Athetoid cerebral palsy– uncontrolled movements, writhing
- Ataxic cerebral palsy – poor balance and coordination
- Also, a mixed type of cerebral palsy can occur, which is a mix of the different types of cerebral palsy.
Causes of Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy is usually caused by non-progressive brain abnormalities in the part of the brain that control muscle function (“non-progressive” means that the brain abnormality does not cause ongoing brain degeneration). Brain damage can occur during pregnancy (problems with the brain’s blood supply or genetic conditions) or after the brain has developed (later in the pregnancy, during delivery, or in the child’s first years of life.
These post-natal causes include:
Many cerebral palsy cases do not have a defined cause. Research is underway to identify pregnancies most at risk, so that strategies to prevent cerebral palsy can be developed.
Cerebral Palsy Risk factors include:
- Premature birth (less than 37 weeks)
- Low birth weight (less than 5.5 pounds)
- Multiple babies
- Breech birth (feet-first)Toxic substances
- Severe jaundice (hyperbilirubinemia)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracked the number of school-age children with cerebral palsy through the Metropolitan Atlanta Developmental Disabilities Surveillance Program (MADDSP). In 1996 and determined that 1 in 278 children age 8 had cerebral palsy. In 2000, the number of 8-year-olds with cerebral palsy was estimated at 1 in 323.
Common Symptoms Of Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy can cause a variety of symptoms and disabilities depending on what part of the brain was damaged. The most common symptoms are lack of muscle coordination during voluntary movements (ataxia), stiff muscles, exaggerated reflexes, asymmetrical walking gait, tremors, and difficulty with precise motions.
Children who suffer from cerebral palsy usually have trouble with movement and posture. The disorder can also result in contractures (muscles pull so tightly on the bones that the limbs curl), malnutrition (caused by problems swallowing or feeding). Other associated problems include: difficulty with vision, hearing, and speech, dental problems, seizures, urinary incontinence, and dental problems.
Treatment For Children With Cerebral Palsy
There is no cure for cerebral palsy, but treatment and therapy can make a difference. Although there is no cure, some causes of cerebral palsy are preventable. Head injuries can be prevented with proper seat belt use and bike helmets, and of course preventing child abuse. Therapies such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy can improve some of the symptoms and disabilities. Medications such as muscle relaxants and Botox can help relax contracted muscles. Many people suffering from cerebral palsy require long-term services and care, depending on the severity of symptoms.
Children suffering from cerebral palsy can benefit from early diagnosis and treatment of the condition. Although there is no cure, therapy (physical therapy, speech therapy, medicine) can help improve their capabilities and life. Children are resourceful and resilient, and when helped by therapy, they can learn new ways to accomplish tasks.
Medical-Legal Issues Involved In Cerebral Palsy Cases
The debilitating nature of cerebral palsy for both child and family can be imposing from both an emotional and financial standpoint. Consequently, all cerebral palsy cases should be evaluated from a medical-legal standpoint to determine if a physicians or hospitals negligence is responsible.
In cases where negligence can be established, the family of the child may be entitled to substantial damages for past and future medical care as well as other elements of damages designated in the jurisdiction. In order to determine the feasibility of a recovery, families dealing with a CP child should seek legal guidance as soon as feasible from a lawyer that handles birth injury matters.
Thanks to Heather Keil, J.D. for her assistance with this Child Injury Laws entry.