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What is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a term that encompasses a set of neurological conditions that cause physical disability in human development. Cerebral palsy can affect muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture, balance, and an individual’s motor skills.

What are the causes of cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is often caused by injuries to, or abnormal development of, the brain. Cerebral palsy can occur at any point from the beginning of pregnancy up to the first two years of life when the baby’s brain is still developing. It is often caused by hypoxia, where something causes insufficient oxygen to reach a baby’s brain.

Although in some cases the cause of cerebral palsy is often not known or could not have been prevented, there are many situations in which cerebral palsy could have been prevented, particular during pregnancy and the birth process. The following situations may involve preventable cerebral palsy:

  • Failure to appropriately monitor the fetal heart rate before, during, and after birth.
  • Failure to monitor oxygen flow during delivery.
  • Failure to detect and/or properly treat infections (like meningitis) in the mother during pregnancy
  • Failure to detect a prolapsed umbilical cord.
  • Failure to plan and schedule a caesarean section procedure when a baby is too large to safely pass through the birth canal.
  • Failure to detect and treat fetal distress during labor.
  • Delay in performing (or failure to perform) a medically necessary caesarean section procedure.
  • Negligence and unreasonable mistakes in using instruments like forceps and vacuums while performing a delivery.
  • Failing to adequately monitor the infant before, during, and after delivery for breathing or bleeding problems.
  • Delay in providing emergency care to the infant immediately after birth.

What are the symptoms of cerebral palsy?

The symptoms of cerebral palsy vary greatly from child to child and largely depend on the type of cerebral palsy a child was diagnosed with. Symptoms are usually seen before a child is two years old, and sometimes begin as early as 3 months of age. Parents may notice that their child is delayed in reaching developmental stages such as sitting, rolling, crawling, or walking.

Symptoms vary but commonly include the following:

  • Abnormal movements (twisting and/or jerking) of the hands, feet, arms, or legs while awake.
  • Tremors.
  • Unsteady posture.
  • Loss of coordination.
  • Floppy muscles, especially at rest, and joints that move around too much.
  • Developmental delays or learning disabilities, even though intelligence can be normal.
  • Speech problems.
  • Hearing or vision problems.
  • How common is cerebral palsy?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), cerebral palsy affects, on average, 1 in every 303 children born in the United States.


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