What is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a condition that affects muscle control and movement. It's usually caused by an injury to the brain before, during or after birth. Children with a diagnosis of cerebral palsy may have difficulties in controlling muscles and movements as they grow and develop.

Is there a cure for cerebral palsy?

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

What are cerebral palsy symptoms?

No two people will be affected by their cerebral palsy in the same way, and it's important to ensure treatments and therapies are tailored to your child’s individual needs.

Who does cerebral palsy affect?

In the UK, cerebral palsy affects about one in every 400 children. Cerebral palsy can affect people from all social backgrounds and ethnic groups.

What causes cerebral palsy?

There may be no obvious single reason why a child has cerebral palsy. The main causes of cerebral palsy 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.

What can increase the chances of cerebral palsy?

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 the above (such as low birth weight and being a twin) can further increase the probability of cerebral palsy.

Types of cerebral palsy

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

Spastic cerebral palsy

Present in around 75-88% of people with cerebral palsy, spasticity means the muscle tone is tight and stiff causing a decreased range of movement. As the muscle tone is so tight, spasticity can be very painful with muscles often going into spasm. It can affect many different areas of the body.

Dyskinetic cerebral palsy

Sometimes referred to as dystonic, athetoid or choreoathetoid cerebral palsy. It's present in about 15% of people with cerebral palsy. Dyskinetic cerebral palsy causes uncontrolled, involuntary, sustained or intermittent muscle contractions as the muscle tone changes from tight to loose, often accompanied with slow, rhythmic movements. The whole body can be affected which can make it difficult to maintain an upright position. Speech can also be affected as the person may experience difficulty in controlling the tongue, vocal chords and breathing.

Ataxic cerebral palsy

Ataxia is defined as an inability to activate the correct pattern of muscles during movement. Balance is affected and the person may have poor spatial awareness or find it difficult to judge their body position in relation to things around them. It's present in about 4% of people with cerebral palsy and can affect the whole body. Most people with ataxic cerebral palsy can walk but they will be unsteady with shaky movements. Speech and language can also be affected.

Mixed cerebral palsy

Many people with cerebral palsy will have a combination of the above types. You may also come across terms such as hemiplegia or diplegia. These terms refer to the part of the body affected by the cerebral palsy. For example, hemiplegia means that the person is affected on one side of the body. Diplegia is where two limbs are affected. Monoplegia where one limb is affected and Quadriplegia where all four limbs are affected.  

Cerebral palsy: associated conditions

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

What is the life expectancy for people with cerebral palsy?

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

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