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Definition of Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy (CP) is an umbrella term encompassing a group of non-progressive, non-contagious motor conditions that cause physical disability in human development, chiefly in the various areas of body movement.
Cerebral refers to the cerebrum, which is the affected area of the brain (although the disorder most likely involves connections between the cortex and other parts of the brain such as the cerebellum), and palsy refers to disorder of movement. Furthermore, "paralytic disorders" are not cerebral palsy - the condition of quadriplegia, therefore, should not be confused with spastic quadriplegia, nor tardive dyskinesia with dyskinetic cerebral palsy, nor diplegia with spastic diplegia, and so on.
Cerebral palsy's nature as an umbrella term means it is defined mostly via several different subtypes, especially the type featuring spasticity, and also mixtures of those subtypes.
Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the motor control centers of the developing brain and can occur during pregnancy, during childbirth or after birth up to about age three. Resulting limits in movement and posture cause activity limitation and are often accompanied by disturbances of sensation, depth perception and other sight-based perceptual problems, communication ability; impairments can also be found in cognition, and epilepsy is found in about one-third of cases. CP, no matter what the type, is often accompanied by secondary musculoskeletal problems that arise as a result of the underlying etiology.
Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy
All types of cerebral palsy are characterized by abnormal muscle tone (i.e., slouching over while sitting), reflexes, or motor development and coordination. There can be joint and bone deformities and contractures (permanently fixed, tight muscles and joints). The classical symptoms are spasticities, spasms, other involuntary movements (e.g. facial gestures), unsteady gait, problems with balance, and/or soft tissue findings consisting largely of decreased muscle mass. Scissor walking (where the knees come in and cross) and toe walking (which can contribute to a gait reminiscent of a marionette) are common among people with CP who are able to walk, but taken on the whole, CP symptomatology is very diverse. The effects of cerebral palsy fall on a continuum of motor dysfunction which may range from slight clumsiness at the mild end of the spectrum to impairments so severe that they render coordinated movement virtually impossible at the other end the spectrum.
Babies born with severe CP often have an irregular posture; their bodies may be either very floppy or very stiff. Birth defects, such as spinal curvature, a small jawbone, or a small head sometimes occur along with CP. Symptoms may appear or change as a child gets older. Some babies born with CP do not show obvious signs right away. Classically, CP becomes evident when the baby reaches the developmental stage at six and a half to 9 months and is starting to mobilise, where preferential use of limbs, asymmetry or gross motor developmental delay is seen.
Causes of Cerebral Palsy
The exact causes of most cases of CP are unknown, but many are the result of problems during pregnancy in which the brain is either damaged or doesn't develop normally. This can be due to infections, maternal health problems, or something else that interferes with normal brain development. Problems during labor and delivery can cause CP in some cases.
Diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy
CP may be diagnosed very early in an infant known to be at risk for developing the condition because of premature birth or other health problems. Doctors, such as pediatricians and developmental and neurological specialists, usually follow these kids closely from birth so that they can identify and address any developmental delays or problems with muscle function that might indicate CP.
In a baby carried to term with no other obvious risk factors for CP, it may be difficult to diagnose the disorder in the first year of life. Often doctors aren't able to diagnose CP until they see a delay in normal developmental milestones (such as reaching for toys by 4 months or sitting up by 7 months), which can be a sign of CP.
Treatment of Cerebral Palsy
Treatment for cerebral palsy is a lifelong multi-dimensional process focused on the maintenance of associated conditions. In order to be diagnosed with cerebral palsy the damage that occurred to the brain must be non-progressive and not disease-like in nature. The manifestation of that damage will change as the brain and body develop, but the actual damage to the brain will not increase. Treatment in the life of cerebral palsy is the constant focus on preventing the damage in the brain from prohibiting healthy development on all levels. The brain, up to about the age of 8, is not concrete in its development. It has the ability to reorganize and reroute many signal paths that may have been affected by the initial trauma; the earlier it has help in doing this the more successful it will be. Various forms of therapy are available to people living with cerebral palsy as well as caregivers and parents caring for someone with this disability. They can all be useful at all stages of this disability and are vital in a person with cerebral palsy's ability to function and live more effectively. In general, the earlier treatment begins the better chance children have of overcoming developmental disabilities or learning new ways to accomplish the tasks that challenge them. The earliest proven intervention occurs during the infant's recovery in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Treatment may include one or more of the following: physical therapy; occupational therapy; speech therapy; drugs to control seizures, alleviate pain, or relax muscle spasms (e.g. benzodiazepines, baclofen and intrathecal phenol/baclofen); hyperbaric oxygen; the use of Botox to relax contracting muscles; surgery to correct anatomical abnormalities or release tight muscles; braces and other orthotic devices; rolling walkers; and communication aids such as computers with attached voice synthesizers. For instance, the use of a standing frame can help reduce spasticity and improve range of motion for people with CP who use wheelchairs. Nevertheless, there is only some benefit from therapy. Treatment is usually symptomatic and focuses on helping the person to develop as many motor skills as possible or to learn how to compensate for the lack of them. Non-speaking people with CP are often successful availing themselves of augmentative and alternative communication systems such as Blissymbols. Constraint-induced movement therapy (CIMT) has shown promising evidence in helping individuals with neurological disorders that have lost most of the use of an extremity. Research has proven the positive benefits of CIMT for people who have had a stroke and traumatic brain injury. However, later studies have addressed the application of CIMT for children with CP challenged with hemiparesis, that show a significant benefit in constraint induced movement therapy for children with cerebral palsy who are challenged with hemiparesis.
Prognosis of Cerebral Palsy
CP is not a progressive disorder (meaning the brain damage does not worsen), but the symptoms can become more severe over time due to subdural damage. A person with the disorder may improve somewhat during childhood if he or she receives extensive care from specialists, but once bones and musculature become more established, orthopedic surgery may be required. The full intellectual potential of a child born with CP will often not be known until the child starts school. People with CP are more likely to have learning disabilities, although these may be unrelated to IQ, and are more likely to show varying degrees of intellectual disability. Intellectual level among people with CP varies from genius to intellectually impaired, as it does in the general population, and experts have stated that it is important to not underestimate a person with CP's capabilities and to give them every opportunity to learn.
Prevention of Cerebral Palsy
In many cases the causes of CP are unknown, so there's no way to prevent it. But if you're having a baby, you can take steps to ensure a healthy pregnancy and carry the baby to term, thus lowering the risk that your baby will have CP.
Before becoming pregnant, it's important to maintain a healthy diet and make sure that any medical problems are managed properly. As soon as you know you're pregnant, proper prenatal medical care is vital. If you are taking any medications, review these with your doctor and clarify if there are any side effects that can cause birth defects.
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