This is a general term for a group of permanent, non-progressive movement disorders that cause physical disability, mainly in the areas of body movement. There may also be problems with sensation, depth perception, and communication ability. Difficulty with cognition and epilepsy are found in about one-third of cases. There are subtypes including a type characterized by spasticity, a type characterized by poor coordination, and types which feature both symptoms or neither.
Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the motor control centres 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. 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. 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, with efforts attempting to treat and prevent complications. It occurs in about 2.1 per 1,000 live births.
Cerebral palsy is characterized by abnormal muscle tone, reflexes, or motor development and coordination. There can be joint and bone deformities and constructures (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 of 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 61/2 to 9 months and is starting to mobilise, where preferential use of limbs, asymmetry, or gross motor developmental delay is seen. Resulting conditions can include seizures, epilepsy, apraxia, dysarthria or other communication disorders, eating problems, sensory impairments, intellectual disability, learning disabilities, urinary, incontinence, fecal incontinence, and/or behavioural disorders.