What Is Cerebral Palsy

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Each year, thousands of infants and children are diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Hundreds of thousands of people in the United States live with cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy (CP) refers to a condition, or group of conditions, that are chronic neurological disorders. Cerebral palsy is not a condition that is catching, nor is it a disease; rather, it is a condition that people may be born with, or acquire in the first years of their life. The neurological condition may appear as a result of damage to the brain that occurs during fetal development, before, during, or shortly after birth, or during early childhood. It can effect a child's movement, posture, and muscle coordination. While cerebral palsy affects an individual's muscle coordination, it does not actually occur in the muscles, but rather is a condition that affects the parts of the brain that control motor function and muscle coordination.

Most children diagnosed with cerebral palsy are born with the condition, the causes of which are unknown; however, it may not be detected in an infant until a few months after birth or in early childhood. Risk factors that may attribute to the development of cerebral palsy before birth may include a mother taking drugs or medication while pregnant; a mother contracting a disease, such as measles, while pregnant; a fetus being deprived of oxygen in the womb; an incompatibility of blood between the fetus and the mother; a low birth weight; or, a premature birth. Some children may develop cerebral palsy as a result of brain injury or lack of oxygen to the brain during birthing process, while others may develop cerebral palsy as a result of a brain injury attributed to a car accident, a fall, or child abuse such as a baby being shaken.

Early signs of cerebral palsy may often be first identified by parents. The signs usually appear before a child is 18 months old. Initial signs usually show that an infant is not developing motor skills normally. The early signs of CP may be, but are not limited to:

Delay in rolling over, sitting, crawling, smiling, or walking
Relaxed muscles or muscles that seem floppy
Stiff or rigid muscles
Unusual posture, such as favoring one side of the body over the other

In the event that a parent is concerned about their child's development, they should contact their doctor, who will be able to discern whether or not various signs are typical or may be symptoms of cerebral palsy.

There are different types of cerebral palsy, each affecting individuals somewhat differently.

Spastic cerebral palsy: This affects the largest percent of individuals with CP. Muscles are stiff and contracted permanently. Limbs may be weak or paralyzed. This may affect specific limbs, or half of the body, such as the right or left side.
Athetoid/dyskinetic cerebral palsy: Characteristics of this form of CP include uncontrolled, slow, writhing movements that typically affect the feet, hands, legs, or arms. Occasionally, this form of CP may also affect muscles in the face or the tongue. The muscle control issues associated with athetoid/dyskinetic cerebral palsy may also cause speech impairments.
Ataxic cerebral palsy: This form of CP affects balance and depth perception. People with ataxic CP may have poor coordination and difficulty walking or performing precise movements. In addition, people with this form of cerebral palsy may have an intention tremor, which may occur and worsen when reaching for an item, such as a cup of coffee.
Combination: It is not uncommon for people to have a combination of the different forms of cerebral palsy.

There is no known cure for cerebral palsy. There are treatments available to help individuals with cerebral palsy gain better control over their muscles and movements, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy, as well as some drug treatments.

If you believe that your child may have developed cerebral palsy as the result of a birth related injury, it is recommended that you speak with an attorney in your state. An attorney who is knowledgeable about medical malpractice and birth injuries can walk you through the steps you need to take and determine whether or not you have a case. Medical malpractice in the case of cerebral palsy is difficult to prove and can be an arduous process, but a lawyer will do what he or she can to seek resolution for you and your family.


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