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Your UCP: National October 13, 2003
Health & Wellness


What is Cerebral Palsy?

What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a term used to describe a group of chronic conditions affecting body movement and muscle coordination. It is caused by damage to the brain, usually occurring during fetal development, during birth, or during infancy. “Cerebral” refers to the brain and “palsy” to muscle weakness/poor control. Cerebral palsy itself is not progressive (i.e., it does not get worse). Cerebral palsy is not contagious. It is not a disease. Although cerebral palsy is not “curable” in the accepted sense, training and therapy can help improve function. There are three main types: spastic—stiff and difficult movement; athetoid—involuntary and uncontrolled movement; ataxic—disturbed sense of balance and depth perception. There may be a mixture of these types for any individual.

What are the effects?

Cerebral palsy is characterized by an inability to fully control motor function, particularly muscle control and coordination. Depending on which areas of the brain have been damaged, one or more of the following may occur: muscle tightness or spasm; involuntary movement; disturbance in gait and mobility, abnormal sensation and perception; impairment of sight, hearing or speech; and seizures. Other problems that may arise are difficulties in feeding, bladder and bowel control, problems with breathing because of postural difficulties, skin pressure sores, and learning disabilities.

What are the causes?

A large number of factors that can injure the developing brain may produce cerebral palsy. One important cause is an insufficient amount of oxygen reaching the fetal or newborn brain. Oxygen supply can be interrupted by premature separation of the placenta from the wall of the uterus, awkward birth position of the baby, labor that is too long or too abrupt, or interference with circulation in the umbilical cord. Premature birth, low birth weight, blood type incompatibility between mother and infant, infection of the mother with German measles or other virus diseases in early pregnancy, and microorganisms that attack the infant’s central nervous system also are risk factors for cerebral palsy.

How many people have CP?

It is estimated that 500,000 children and adults in the United States have cerebral palsy. Approximately 35,000 people in Michigan have cerebral palsy.

Can cerebral palsy be treated?

“Management” is a better word than “treatment.” Management consists of helping the child achieve maximum potential in growth and development. This should be started as early as possible. A management program can include attention to the child’s movement, learning, speech, hearing, and social and emotional development. In these programs, physicians, therapists, educators, nurses, and social workers assist the family and the child. Certain medications, surgery, and braces may be used to improve nerve and muscle coordination. As individuals mature, they may require support services such as personal assistance services, educational and vocational training, independent living services, transportation, and recreation/leisure programs. People with cerebral palsy can go to school, have jobs, get married, raise families, and live in homes of their own.

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