Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of permanent movement problems that do not get worse over time. They cause physical disability mainly in the areas of body movement. There may also be problems with sensation, vision and communication ability. Difficulty with cognition and epilepsy are found in about one-third of cases.
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. About 2% of all cerebral palsy cases are believed to be due to a genetic cause. It occurs in about 2.1 per 1,000 live births. Cerebral palsy is not an infectious disease and is not contagious. Most cases are diagnosed at a young age rather than during adolescence or adulthood.
Numerous improvements in the care of newborns has helped reduce the number of babies who develop cerebral palsy and increased the survival of those with very low birth weights. There is no cure, but there are several ways to treat the symptoms and to prevent complications.
Cerebral refers to the cerebrum, which is the affected area of the brain. The disorder may often involve connections between the cortex and other parts of the brain such as the cerebellum. The root word "palsy" means muscle weakness that accompanies nerve damage to the central nervous system.
Spastic cerebral palsy is by far the most common type of overall cerebral palsy, occurring about 80 percent of all cases. People with the spastic/spasticity type of cerebral palsy experience greatly increased tightness and stiffness in their muscle groups. Spastic muscles are continuously contracting involuntarily. These contractions, which the person cannot willfully control, may seem very strong, but voluntary muscle function that the person tries to intentionally perform may actually be very weak. Imbalance of strength between apposing muscle groups may lead to abnormal positions of the joints on which they act. Abnormal postures are usually associated with the antigravity muscles, which are extensors in the leg and the flexors in the arm. Deformities of joints develop which may become fixed contractures with time. Changes in spasticity and postures may occur with excitement, fear or anxiety and pain, which increase muscle tension. This most common form of cerebral palsy has benefitted greatly from two different neurosurgical treatments: the selective dorsal nerve root rhizotmy and the intrathecal Baclofen medication infusion pump system.
Three other types of cerebral palsy are ataxic cerebral palsy, dyskinetic cerebral palsy and athetoid cerebral palsy. These types manifest more complex movement dysfunctions. Reliable neurosurgical treatments for these conditions are currently under development, but not yet widely available.