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Cerebral Palsy (cont.)

Cerebral Palsy Symptoms

The signs of cerebral palsy are usually not noticeable in early infancy but become more obvious as the child's nervous system matures. Early signs include the following:

  • Delayed milestones such as controlling head, rolling over, reaching with one hand, sitting without support, crawling, or walking
  • Persistence of "infantile" or "primitive reflexes," which normally disappear 3 to 6 months after birth
  • Developing handedness before age 18 months: This indicates weakness or abnormal muscle tone on one side, which may be an early sign of CP.

Problems and disabilities related to CP range from very mild to very severe. Their severity is related to the severity of the brain damage. They may be very subtle, noticeable only to medical professionals, or may be obvious to the parents and other caregivers.

  • Abnormal muscle tone: Muscles may be very stiff (spastic) or unusually relaxed and "floppy." Limbs may be held in unusual or awkward positions. For example, spastic leg muscles may cause legs to cross in a scissor-like position.
  • Abnormal movements: Movements may be unusually jerky or abrupt, or slow and writhing. They may appear uncontrolled or without purpose.
  • Skeletal deformities: People who have cerebral palsy on only one side may have shortened limbs on the affected side. If not corrected by surgery or a device, this can lead to tilting of the pelvic bones and scoliosis (curvature of the spine).
  • Joint contractures: People with spastic cerebral palsy may develop severe stiffening of the joints because of unequal pressures on the joints exerted by muscles of differing tone or strength.
  • Mental retardation: Some, although not all, children with cerebral palsy are affected by mental retardation. Generally, the more severe the retardation, the more severe the disability overall.
  • Seizures: About one-third of people with cerebral palsy have seizures. Seizures may appear early in life or years after the brain damage that causes cerebral palsy. The physical signs of a seizure may be partly masked by the abnormal movements of a person with cerebral palsy.
  • Speech problems: Speech is partly controlled by movements of muscles of the tongue, mouth, and throat. Some individuals with cerebral palsy are unable to control these muscles and thus cannot speak normally.
  • Swallowing problems: Swallowing is a very complex function that requires precise interaction of many groups of muscles. People with cerebral palsy who are unable to control these muscles will have problems sucking, eating, drinking, and controlling their saliva. They may drool. An even greater risk is aspiration, the inhalation into the lungs of food or fluids from the mouth or nose. This can cause infection or even suffocation.
  • Hearing loss: Partial hearing loss is not unusual in people with cerebral palsy. The child may not respond to sounds or may have delayed speech.
  • Vision problems: Three-quarters of people with cerebral palsy have strabismus, which is the turning in or out of one eye. This is due to weakness of the muscles that control eye movement. These people are often nearsighted. If not corrected, strabismus can lead to more severe vision problems over time.
  • Dental problems: People with cerebral palsy tend to have more cavities than usual. This results from both defects in tooth enamel and difficulties brushing the teeth.
  • Bowel and/or bladder control problems: These are caused by lack of muscle control.
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Cerebral Palsy »

The term cerebral palsy (CP) was originally coined more than a century ago and loosely translates as "brain paralysis."

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