Symptoms and Signs of Cerebral Palsy

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 10/16/2021

Doctor's Notes on Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a condition of impaired muscle coordination and/or other disabilities, usually caused by damage to the brain before or at birth. Signs and symptoms may include

  • lack of muscle coordination,
  • impaired or involuntary movements,
  • abnormal reflexes,
  • exaggerated movements,
  • abnormal walking and posture,
  • difficulty with speech and swallowing,
  • drooling,
  • eye muscle problems, and
  • body rigidity or floppiness.

Other signs and symptoms that may be present are

However, many cerebral palsy patients have some symptoms but can have normal mental capacity that may be difficult to appreciate because of their physical limitations that can interfere with communication.

The cause of cerebral palsy is damage to the developing brain in pregnancy (about 70%-80%) and/or during birth or even in the first few years of life. Factors linked to the condition include birth defects, brain damage due to head injury, meningitis, lack of oxygen, severe jaundice, premature birth, multiple births (twins), low birth weight, problems in the mother (infections, seizures, thyroid problems, for example), and complications during labor and delivery.

What Are the Treatments for Cerebral Palsy?

Treatments for cerebral palsy are centered on the individual's spectrum of disabilities (there is no cure). Treatment plans may include the following:

  • Medications
    • Antispasmodics: reduce muscle spasms and tightness
    • Anticonvulsants: reduce or stop seizures
    • Anticholinergics: reduce rigidity and drooling
    • Botulinum toxin injection: reduce muscle tightness
  • Therapy options
    • Physical therapy: improve muscle flexibility
    • Occupational therapy: improve fine motor skills
    • Speech therapy: improve communication
  • Surgery
    • Orthopedic surgery: reduce spasticity, treat dislocations, deformities, for example
    • Neurosurgery: medical pump placement, nerve surgery that reduces spasticity
    • Other aids
      • Special chairs, walkers
      • Orthotics: braces, splints
      • Special items: utensils, writing aids
      • Communication aids: computers, speech-recognition software, picture books, and others

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.