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Cerebral Palsy By Stefanie Meadows

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Cerebral palsy is a condition that affects one’s ability to move, balance, and even affect posture. By definition cerebral palsy has to do with the brain and palsy has to do with weakness or problems with the muscles. According to The United Cerebral Palsy Foundation (UPC), there are 800,00 children and adults that have some type of cerebral palsy and about 10,000 babies are born who develop it in the United States alone.

Cerebral palsy is not a disease that you can catch or pass on to someone else and it is not handed down from one generation to the next either. Unfortunately, at this time there are no known cures for cerebral palsy, but there are treatments, medications, therapies, and even surgeries that can improve many functions and skills in the individuals it affects.

There are a wide range and variety of symptoms that vary from person to person, but once diagnosed with cerebral palsy the condition pretty much stays the same, and only symptoms may change over time. Cerebral palsy is usually diagnosed early in life in infants and toddlers when developmental milestones are not met or delays present themselves. Along with cerebral palsy, many have other related conditions such as intellectual disability, vision and hearing issues, and spine or joint problems.

There are four main types of cerebral palsy. The first is Spastic Cerebral Palsy which is the most common of all the types and affects about 80% of people diagnosed. Spastic Cerebral Palsy causes increased muscle tone which causes muscles to be stiff and in turn, makes movement very awkward. The second main type is Diskinetic Cerebral Palsy where muscle movements are uncontrollable causing either very slow or very fast jerking motions. The muscle tones with Diskinetic CP can vary and change quite frequently. The third main type of CP is Ataxic Cerebral Palsy which is associated with loss of balance and coordination causing problems walking and writing among other problems. The final main type of CP is Mixed Cerebral Palsy which is when one has symptoms of more than one of the three other types of CP and the most common type of Mixed CP is Spastic-Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy.

Some symptoms could lead to a diagnosis of cerebral palsy and they are; differences in muscle tone such as being too stiff or too loose, plasticity or rigidity, ataxia, involuntary movements, delays in reaching certain milestones, favoring one side of the body over the other, difficulty walking, excessive drooling, trouble eating, speech delays, and trouble with fine motor skills. Only about 5 to 10 % of diagnosed CP cases in children are referred to as congenital cerebral palsy meaning they are born with it and the main cause is lack of oxygen during birth. An even smaller number of diagnoses are acquired cerebral palsy which is usually caused after birth by damage to the brain early in life whether it be from a brain infection such as bacterial meningitis, head injury due to a fall or accident, or even child abuse. The majority of cerebral palsy diagnoses are due to the result of one of four main types of damage to areas of the brain that happen early in fetal development or either right before or right after birth.

Even though there is no known cure for CP there are some risk factors that are associated with an increased chance of a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, but that does not mean that having a child with any or all these risk factors will result in a diagnosis of CP.

Babies with a low birth weight or that or born before 37 weeks are at greater risk than those who are full term and normal within the normal weight range however some full term normal weight babies are diagnosed. Multiple births also increase the chance of a diagnosis, especially in the event of the death of one or more of the multiples. Certain infections during pregnancy caused by viruses such as toxoplasmosis, rubella, and herpes can cause a risk of CP by infecting the womb or placenta. The Rh factor used to be considered a large risk, but now with prenatal care there are treatments in the United States that prevent this, and is now rarely seen except in other countries. Any exposure to toxic substances such as methylmercury can increase the chances of a diagnosis as well as having a baby born with jaundice. Babies that are in a breech position in the beginning stages of labor are also at a higher risk of being diagnosed.

With all this being said, there are a few simple controllable measures parents can take to avoid a diagnosis of congenital cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy that is caused by genetic abnormalities can not be avoided however diligent and cautious one is. Prenatal care is key in prevention and the sooner the care starts the better. There are also fetal monitoring devices that are used during labor that keep track of the fetal heartbeat and oxygen levels preventing possible fetal distress. Acquired Cerebral Palsy is very preventable as it is caused mainly by a head injury. Helmets are key here on any bike or mode of transportation of choice and also just plain old fashioned safety common sense when it comes to child accident and fall prevention.

Some children will still be born with cerebral palsy even with the most cautious and diligent parents and of course, accidents will also happen with the most safety conscious unless the infant or toddler is wrapped in bubble wrap during these important early years. Thankfully for the parents who do happen to have a child diagnosed with CP, there are many resources, support groups, and specialized doctors in this field to help them navigate the best and most productive life.

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Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cerebral-palsy/DS00302

Centers For Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbdd/cp/facts.html

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke:http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/cerebral_palsy/detail_cerebral_palsy.htm?ccs=print



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