Cerebral palsySpastic paralysis; Paralysis - spastic; Spastic hemiplegia; Spastic diplegia; Spastic quadriplegia
Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that can involve brain and nervous system functions, such as movement, learning, hearing, seeing, and thinking.
There are several different types of cerebral palsy, including spastic, dyskinetic, ataxic, hypotonic, and mixed.
Cerebral palsy is caused by injuries or abnormalities of the brain. Most of these problems occur as the baby grows in the womb. But they can happen at any time during the first 2 years of life, while the baby's brain is still developing.
In some people with cerebral palsy, parts of the brain are injured due to a low level of oxygen ( hypoxia ) in those areas. It is not known why this occurs.
Cerebral hypoxia occurs when there is not enough oxygen getting to the brain. The brain needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients to function....
Premature infants have a slightly higher risk of developing cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy may also occur during early infancy as a result of several conditions, including:
- Bleeding in the brain
Brain infections (
, herpes simplex infections)
Encephalitis is irritation and swelling (inflammation) of the brain, most often due to infections.
Meningitis is an infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. This covering is called the meninges.
A head injury is any trauma to the scalp, skull, or brain. The injury may be only a minor bump on the skull or a serious brain injury. Head injury c...
Infections in the mother during pregnancy (
Rubella, also known as the German measles, is an infection in which there is a rash on the skin. Congenital rubella is when a pregnant woman with rub...
Newborn jaundice occurs when a baby has a high level of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is a yellow substance that the body creates when it replac...
In some cases, the cause of cerebral palsy is never determined.
Symptoms of cerebral palsy can be very different between people with this group of disorders. Symptoms may:
- Be very mild or very severe
- Only involve one side of the body or both sides
- Be more pronounced in either the arms or legs, or involve both the arms and legs
Symptoms are usually seen before a child is 2 years old. Sometimes symptoms begin as early as 3 months. Parents may notice that their child is delayed in reaching developmental stages such as sitting, rolling, crawling, or walking.
There are several different types of cerebral palsy. Some people have a mix of symptoms.
Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type. Symptoms include:
- Muscles that are very tight and do not stretch. They may tighten even more over time.
- Abnormal walk (gait): arms tucked in toward the sides, knees crossed or touching, legs make "scissors" movements, walk on the toes
- Joints are tight and do not open all the way (called joint contracture)
- Muscle weakness or loss of movement in a group of muscles (paralysis)
- Symptoms may affect one arm or leg, one side of the body, both legs, or both arms and legs
The following symptoms may occur in other types of cerebral palsy:
- Abnormal movements (twisting, jerking, or writhing) of the hands, feet, arms, or legs while awake, which gets worse during periods of stress
A tremor is a type of shaking movement. A tremor is most often noticed in the hands and arms. It may affect any body part, including the head or vo...
- Unsteady gait
- Loss of coordination
- Floppy muscles, especially at rest, and joints that move around too much
Other brain and nervous system symptoms may include:
- Learning disabilities are common, but intelligence can be normal
- Speech problems (dysarthria)
- Hearing or vision problems
A seizure is the physical findings or changes in behavior that occur after an episode of abnormal electrical activity in the brain. The term "seizure...
- Pain, especially in adults, which can be difficult to manage
Eating and digestion symptoms:
- Difficulty sucking or feeding in infants, or chewing and swallowing in older children and adults
- Vomiting or constipation
- Increased drooling
- Slower than normal growth
Most people take breathing for granted. People with certain illnesses may have breathing problems that they deal with on a regular basis. This arti...
Urinary (or bladder) incontinence happens when you are not able to keep urine from leaking out of your urethra. The urethra is the tube that carries...
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will perform a full neurologic exam. In older people, testing cognitive function is also important.
Other tests may be performed as needed, most often to rule out other disorders:
- Blood tests
CT scan of the head
CT scan of the head
A head computed tomography (CT) scan uses many x-rays to create pictures of the head, including the skull, brain, eye sockets, and sinuses.
An electroencephalogram is a test to measure the electrical activity of the brain.
- Hearing screen
MRI of the head
MRI of the head
A head MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is an imaging test that uses powerful magnets and radio waves to create pictures of the brain and surrounding...
- Vision testing
There is no cure for cerebral palsy. The goal of treatment is to help the person be as independent as possible.
Treatment requires a team approach, including:
- Primary care doctor
- Dentist (dental check-ups are recommended around every 6 months)
- Social worker
- Occupational, physical, and speech therapists
- Other specialists, including a neurologist, rehabilitation physician, pulmonologist, and gastroenterologist
Treatment is based on the person's symptoms and the need to prevent complications.
Self and home care include:
- Getting enough food and nutrition
- Keeping the home safe
- Performing exercises recommended by the providers
- Practicing proper bowel care (stool softeners, fluids, fiber, laxatives, regular bowel habits)
- Protecting the joints from injury
Putting the child in regular schools is recommended, unless physical disabilities or mental development makes this impossible. Special education or schooling may help.
The following may help with communication and learning:
- Hearing aids
- Muscle and bone braces
- Walking aids
Physical therapy, occupational therapy, orthopedic help, or other treatments may also be needed to help with daily activities and care.
Medicines may include:
- Anticonvulsants to prevent or reduce the frequency of seizures
- Botulinum toxin to help with spasticity and drooling
- Muscle relaxants to reduce tremors and spasticity
Surgery may be needed in some cases to:
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which the stomach contents leak backwards from the stomach into the esophagus (the tube from...
- Cut certain nerves from the spinal cord to help with pain and spasticity
- Place feeding tubes
- Release joint contractures
Stress and burnout among parents and other caregivers of cerebral palsy patients is common. Seek support and more information from organizations that specialize in cerebral palsy .
Organizations that specialize in cerebr...
The following organizations are good resources for information on cerebral palsy:National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke -- www. nind...
Cerebral palsy is a life-long disorder. Long-term care may be required. The disorder does not affect expected length of life. The amount of disability varies.
Many adults are able to live in the community, either independently or with different levels of help.
Cerebal palsy may lead to the following health problems:
Bone thinning or
Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break (fracture).
Intestinal obstruction is a partial or complete blockage of the bowel. The contents of the intestine cannot pass through it.
in the hip joint
A dislocation is a separation of 2 bones where they meet at a joint. Joints are areas where 2 bones come together. A dislocated joint is a joint whe...
Arthritis is inflammation of one or more joints. A joint is the area where 2 bones meet. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis....
- Injuries from falls
- Pressure sores
- Joint contractures
caused by choking
Pneumonia is a breathing (respiratory) condition in which there is an infection of the lung. This article covers community-acquired pneumonia (CAP). ...
- Poor nutrition
- Reduced communication skills (sometimes)
- Reduced intellect (sometimes)
Scoliosis is an abnormal curving of the spine. Your spine is your backbone. It runs straight down your back. Everyone's spine naturally curves a b...
- Seizures (in about half of the people who are affected by cerebral palsy)
- Social stigma
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if symptoms of cerebral palsy develop, especially if you know that an injury occurred during birth or early infancy.
Getting the proper prenatal care may reduce the risk of some rare causes of cerebral palsy. In most cases though, the injury causing the disorder is not preventable.
Pregnant mothers with certain medical conditions may need to be followed in a high-risk prenatal clinic.
Colver A, Fairhurst C, Pharoah POD. Cerebral palsy. Lancet . 2014;583(9924):1240-1249. PMID: 24268104 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24268104 .
Johnston MV. Encephalopathies. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics . 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 598.
Nass R, Ross G. Developmental disabilities. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice . 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 61.
Noritz GH, Murphy NA; American Academy of Pediatrics Neuromotor Screening Expert Panel. Motor delays: early identification and evaluation. Pediatrics . 2013;131:e2016-2027. PMID: 23713113 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23713113 .
Central nervous system and peripheral nervous system - illustration
The central nervous system is comprised of the brain and spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system includes all peripheral nerves.
Central nervous system and peripheral nervous system
Review Date: 8/13/2015
Reviewed By: Joseph V. Campellone, MD, Division of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.