Cerebral palsy refers to conditions that affect co-ordination and movement. It is caused by a problem in the brain usually occurring before, during or soon after birth. In the UK one in 400 children are affected with life expectancy the same as anyone else.
Most often, it is down to abnormal development of the baby’s brain whilst it is growing in the womb such as damage to the white matter due to reduction in the baby’s blood or oxygen supply. It may also occur as a result of infections caught by the mother such as chickenpox or rubella.
The risk of developing cerebral palsy is increased in babies being born prematurely or at low birth weight. If the mother is over 35 or has abnormal blood pressure the risk also increases. 10% of cerebral palsy cases are due to injuries at birth such as asphyxiation, a lack of oxygen reaching the brain during birth.
There are 3 main types of cerebral palsy with most people having a combination.
Symptoms are usually noticeable within the first 2-3 years of a child life and affects people in different ways. They include:
If you are concerned about the development of your child; speak to the GP in the first instance. The GP can help by referring your child to a specialist team to check for any problems. The specialist team may conduct several tests which could include brain scans such as cranial ultrasound, MRI’s and CT scans.
There is currently no cure for cerebral palsy, but treatment aims to help people with the condition to live a normal and independent life.
There are medications to help manage the condition and relieve symptoms. These include medications that help with muscle stiffness, sleeping, drooling and gastro intestinal complaints. Many children develop epilepsy due to the brain damage and may require ant-seizure medication.
Some patients have difficulty swallowing food which can be a problem, as it increases the risk of choking or chest infection. In this case swallowing techniques and exercises can be taught. Dietary changes, such as eating soft foods can also be helpful.
Support groups available across the country ensure children and parents have access to the resources they need. These include: