What is Cerebral Palsy (CP)?

Cerebral Palsy is a condition that affects muscle control and movement. In the UK, Cerebral Palsy affects about 1 in every 400 children.

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 (though this is quite rare)

You may also want to read information on 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 many different ways.

Factors increasing the chances of CP

The following factors can increase the likelihood of Cerebral Palsy:

  • Difficult or premature birth
  • Twins or multiple birth
  • Mother’s age being below 20 or over 40
  • Father under 20 years
  • First child or fifth (or more) child
  • Baby of low 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.

Types of Cerebral Palsy

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

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 chords 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:

  • learning difficulty (although children with CP cover the same range of intelligence as other children)
  • epilepsy (affects up to a third of children with CP)
  • hearing impairment (only 8% of children)
  • problems with sleep 
  • communication difficulties
  • feeding difficulties 
  • drooling 
  • problems with toileting
  • behaviour issues (affects one in four children with CP)
  • periventricular leukomalacia (PVL) 

Life expectancy for people with CP

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

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