Cerebral palsy (CP)

Cerebral palsy is a condition that affects muscle control and movement. It affects about 1 in every 400 children in the UK.

It is usually caused by an injury to the brain before, during or after birth, but there may be no obvious single reason. The main causes include:

  • infection in the early part of pregnancy
  • lack of oxygen to the brain
  • abnormal brain development
  • a genetic link but this is quite rare

Clinical negligence

There is no cure, but physiotherapy and other therapies can often help people become more independent.

Treatments and therapies should reflect individual needs, as CP affects people in different ways.

Causes of cerebral palsy

The following factors can increase the likelihood of CP:

  • difficult or premature birth
  • twins or multiple birth
  • mother’s age below 20 or over 40
  • father under 20
  • first child or fifth (or more) child
  • baby of birth weight less than 2.5 pounds
  • premature birth, less than 37 weeks

A combination of factors such as low birth weight and being a twin can increase the probability.

Symptoms of cerebral palsy

Symptoms of cerebral palsy normally become noticeable around 18 months to 2 years old. Although sometimes diagnosis is later in childhood. Your child might have problems with movement, co-ordination and development.

Possible signs of CP can include:

  • delays in reaching development milestones
  • being too stiff or too floppy
  • fidgety, jerky or clumsy movements
  • muscle spasms
  • walking on tiptoes

Symptoms will vary depending on the severity and type of cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy – Symptoms (NHS)

Types of cerebral palsy

There are 3 main types. Many people will have a mixture of these.

The Gross Motor Function Classification System shows how someone's CP might affect them.

Download CanChild's PDF of Gross Motor Function Classification System

Spastic cerebral palsy

Spasticity means the muscle tone is tight and stiff. This reduces a person's range of movement. As the muscle tone is so tight, spasticity can be very painful with muscles often going into spasm. It can affect different areas of the body.

Dyskinetic cerebral palsy

Sometimes called dystonic, athetoid or choreoathetoid cerebral palsy. Dyskinetic CP causes uncontrolled, involuntary, sustained or intermittent muscle contractions. It may be difficult to maintain an upright position. The person may find it difficult to control the tongue, vocal cords and breathing. This may affect speech and language.

Ataxic cerebral palsy

Ataxia is defined as an inability to activate the correct pattern of muscles during movement. This affects balance and spatial awareness. It can make it difficult to judge your body position in relation to things around you. Ataxia can affect the whole body. Most people with ataxia can walk but they will be unsteady with shaky movements. Ataxia can also affect speech and language.

Mixed cerebral palsy

Many people will have a mix of types.

You may also come across terms such as:

  • hemiplegia (1 side of the body affected)
  • diplegia (2 limbs affected)
  • monoplegia (1 limb affected)
  • quadriplegia (4 limbs affected)

Cerebral palsy: associated conditions

Some people may have associated conditions; while others may not. These can include:

Life expectancy for people with cerebral palsy

In general, people with CP will have the same life expectancy as anyone else. CP itself is not progressive; the injury to the brain does not change. The effects may change over time for better or worse.

Ageing and CP

Talk to other people about CP in our online community.

Last reviewed by Scope on: 19/06/2023

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