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Cerebral palsy

Overview of cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affects a person’s ability to move and control the body. It is the most common cause of movement problems in children. If your child is experiencing cerebral palsy symptoms or has received a diagnosis, you want the best care possible. Find a Doctor at a Dignity Health facility near you to answer your questions about cerebral palsy in NV, CA, and AZ.

Symptoms of cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy symptoms usually become evident by the time a child turns 3 years old. There are three basic types of cerebral palsy:

  • Ataxia is poor coordination or lack of balance when walking or engaging in activities, such as writing, that require fine motor control.
  • Dyskinesia is uncontrolled movement of the hands, arms, legs, or feet, along with poor control of muscles in the face or mouth.
  • Spasticity is varying degrees of muscle stiffness affecting some or all of the arms, legs, and trunk.

The signs and symptoms of each type of cerebral palsy range from mild to severe. For example, a mild case of dyskinesia may cause the hands to tremble, while a severe case may involve uncontrolled flailing. Very severe cases of spasticity cause nearly complete paralysis. Other common symptoms of cerebral palsy include:

  • Stiff muscles
  • Uncontrollable movements
  • Poor or unusual posture
  • Poor balance and coordination
  • Difficulty speaking or swallowing
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Seizures

It is possible for cerebral palsy symptoms to affect just one part of the body, such as the arms but not the legs or the left side of the body but not the right. Cerebral palsy may not be immediately recognized at birth, especially in preterm infants.

Causes cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy may be caused by:

  • Infections during pregnancy, including chickenpox, rubella (German measles), cytomegalovirus (CMV), and toxoplasmosis
  • Lack of oxygen while in the womb or during birth
  • Bleeding in the brain — some babies experience bleeding in the brain (a stroke) before birth
  • Gene mutations — cerebral palsy does not seem to be a disease that is passed down in families, but random (spontaneous) gene mutations can cause unusual brain development and cerebral palsy
  • Exposure to toxic substances such as mercury
  • Traumatic head injury after birth such as a motor vehicle accident or fall — this type of injury can cause brain damage and cerebral palsy

Sometimes, there is no known cause for cerebral palsy.