What is Cerebral Palsy: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

What is Cerebral Palsy (CP)?

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a neurological disorder. In other words, it is an ailment linked to the central nervous system. It is most commonly diagnosed in infants or young children. If a fetus suffers from a brain injury or complication during development or birth, it can cause CP. It affects motor functions such as muscle movement, posture and hand-eye coordination. Also, cerebral palsy may cause involuntary muscle movements, including random and sudden jerks or gestures. Patients may also suffer from extreme muscle stiffness. This hinders the ability to move in a coordinated manner and it has a significant impact on the patient’s gait and posture (x).

In other cases, cerebral palsy also impedes common bodily functions and actions such as talking, breathing, regular digestive movement, etc. Depending on the case, some individuals may also experience blurry vision or blindness because of unbalanced eye muscles, epileptic episodes or deafness. Apart from that, some cases of cerebral palsy also cause learning or intellectual disabilities (x).

The condition is not always diagnosed immediately. Usually, parents notice that their child has difficulties rolling over, crawling or walking when they should be. These are signs of developmental delay. Some patients are not diagnosed until they are toddlers.

Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy

There are several noticeable symptoms to look out for. Depending on the type of cerebral palsy, the symptoms may vary from individual to individual.

Hemiplegic Cerebral Palsy

Hemiplegic cerebral palsy affects one side of the body. According to the Birth Injury Guide, hemiplegia is a more aggressive form of the disorder because extreme cases can result in total paralysis. About one third-of cerebral palsy patients suffer from hemiplegic cerebral palsy (x). 

There are several symptoms of hemiplegic cerebral palsy and it affects patients differently depending on the extremity of the case. Some patients may display more symptoms than others. Common characteristics include stiff or weak muscles on one side of the body and difficulties walking and balancing. If a child only uses one hand to play with toys or complete tasks, it may indicate that only one side of the body is properly developed (x).

Diplegic Cerebral Palsy

Doctors also sometimes refer to this condition as spastic diplegia, a milder form of CP. Patients with diplegic CP have tense muscles and may often have muscle spasms, especially in the legs. The patient’s joints start to stiffen and they might have difficulty walking or moving the joints as the consistent tension takes its toll.

However, it is less aggressive than hemiplegic CP and usually does not significantly impact the child’s intellectual ability or cognitive function. Some common symptoms include immobility during infancy, floppy leg muscles and very little stamina that causes the child to tire after a few minutes of activity (x).

Spastic Cerebral Palsy

According to the research foundation Cerebral Palsy Alliance, spastic cerebral palsy is the most common form. Much like diplegic CP, patients with spastic CP may suffer from stiff muscles and involuntary jerking movements or spasms. Physicians often characterize spastic CP as a form of hypertonia, which causes the neurons to form bundles and the brain sends neurological messages to the wrong limbs. This damage causes stiffness and involuntary muscle movement (x).

Hypotonic Cerebral Palsy

Hypotonic cerebral palsy causes sluggish or floppy muscle structure that stems from an unusually low muscle tone. Common symptoms include awkward or involuntary muscle and head movements, muscle spasms, impaired balance and spontaneous muscle contractions. Hypotonic CP can also cause respiratory trouble, difficulty keeping a straight posture and trouble standing or walking without assistance (x).

Athetoid Cerebral Palsy

Athetoid cerebral palsy, also commonly called dyskinetic cerebral palsy, is a variant of CP because it causes children to shift between hypertonia and hypotonia. Hypertonia is a period of high muscle tone, while hypotonia is an episode of low muscle tone. The muscles are either extremely stiff or they become weak and limp. The patient may have difficulty using their limbs and have trouble grasping and handling objects (x).

There are several subtypes of athetoid cerebral palsy (x):

  • Dystonia
  • Chorea
  • Athetosis
  • Rigidity
  • Dyskinesia

Each subtype has different symptoms that feature a combination of hypertonic and hypotonic muscle episodes. Additional symptoms may include imbalanced movement, loss of hand-eye coordination, slow rotational movement of the back, torso, arms or legs and spasms in various parts of the body, including fingers and even facial muscles (x).

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Ataxic cerebral palsy is the least common variant of cerebral palsy. Like several other forms, it also causes unsteady or shaky muscle movements. It may also affect balance, limb function and depth perception. Patients may have unstable movements and posture. Ataxia also has an impact on common day-to-day tasks, such as eating and swallowing (x).

Furthermore, tasks like writing and using cutlery can be difficult because the fingers tend to tremble. Some patients have erratic speech patterns, but most patients can communicate effectively. In other cases, the patient may have learning disabilities, but most display normal intelligence levels. Ataxic CP may also cause the patient to fall often because the brain and the muscles do not coordinate and communicate correctly. The brain tends to over-correct muscle movement to compensate for the lack of coordination (x).

Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy

Causes & Risk Factors of Cerebral Palsy

There are several common causes and risk factors for cerebral palsy. Abnormal brain development causes CP and affects the ability to control the muscles (x). One risk factor for CP is premature birth or multiple birth pregnancies, i.e. twins, triplets or quadruplets (x). A child may also develop cerebral palsy if there are complications during birth. However, in most cases, doctors cannot identify a specific cause (x).

Maternal Infections

Some cases of CP develop if the child’s mother has an infection or another medical condition during pregnancy, such as thyroid problems or seizures (x). Any maternal health problem may directly affect fetal growth. Viruses such as Rubella (German measles), cytomegalovirus (CMV) and chicken pox can cause developmental damage to the fetus in early pregnancy (x, x).

Sexually transmitted infections, such as genital herpes or syphilis, are a risk factor for cerebral palsy as well. These infections can transfer from the mother to the child during pregnancy and cause birth defects. They cause inflammation that can hinder the growth of the fetus’ central nervous system (x, x).

Zika virus, toxoplasmosis and thyroid problems may also increase the risk of giving birth to a child with CP. Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that lives in cat feces and soil that can spread through food and skin to skin contact (x). In pregnancy it can cause birth defects, such as cerebral palsy. Zika virus is a mosquito borne illness that may cause complications during pregnancy and birth, such as miscarriage and premature birth. Researchers recognize a connection between the Zika virus infection and cerebral palsy (x). It can cause microcephaly that researchers associate with cerebral palsy (x, x). Toxoplasmosis and Zika virus are particularly troublesome because some patients do not show symptoms, making them difficult to diagnose (x, x).

Diseases in Infancy

Sometimes if a child has an infection or a medical condition in infancy it may increase the risk of CP. This includes jaundice, which develops when bilirubin builds up in the blood and the liver does not properly remove dead blood cells and waste products from the body. It causes the skin and eyes to yellow. If the condition is not treated, it can cause brain damage that can cause cerebral palsy (x).

Secondly, bacterial meningitis causes inflammation in the membranes that envelop the central nervous system, as well as the spinal cord (x). This interferes with proper neurological development (x). Another condition that may increase the risk of CP is viral encephalitis. Similar to bacterial meningitis, it causes inflammation in the brain, which can lead to CP (x).

Birth Complications

Complications during birth are some of the leading causes of cerebral palsy. These include premature and multiple births. In a premature birth, the brain may not be fully developed. Early birth can cause brain damage, low birth weight and respiratory problems. These are all factors that can also increase the risk of CP (x). Research states that multiple births are at a higher risk for cerebral palsy than single births because it increases the risk of low birth weight and premature birth (x).

Rh is a protein in red blood cells. Blood typing identifies the characteristics of a patient’s blood cells. It is either positive or negative, meaning the patient either has the Rh protein or they don’t. If an infant’s birth type is not compatible with the mother’s blood type, it can cause cerebral palsy. Rh incompatibility means that the mother is Rh negative and the baby is Rh positive. Because the mother’s body does not have the protein, it does not recognize it in the baby and mistakenly identifies the baby and its blood cells as a foreign invader. The mother’s body begins producing antibodies that attack the baby’s blood cells in the womb (x).

Head Trauma

Several structures of the body, especially the head and the brain, are still developing in the early years of childhood and babies are susceptible to brain damage if they suffer any head trauma. Abusing or handling a baby aggressively can lead to developmental defects. For example, if a baby is dropped or shaken, it can cause injury to the brain and interfere with motor skill development (x).

Treatment for Cerebral Palsy

There is no cure for CP. Because symptoms differ between patients, treatment depends on the severity of the condition and the individual’s personal desires. Patients can undergo various treatments and therapies to enhance cognitive and physical ability. Doctors also have to address the patient’s social and emotional health. The treatment aims to prevent complications and prepare the patient to live a normal life (x).

Physical Therapy

Using massage and physical activity, physical therapy can help manage pain and increase mobility. It can also boost motor development and muscle strength. By practicing regular muscle movement, the patient can learn to normalize movement and bodily functions (x).

Speech Therapy

Because cerebral palsy can cause language delays, speech therapy can help improve muscle control and help the patient learn to communicate more effectively. It can also address problems with chewing, eating and drooling, all of which may affect CP patients (x). 

Supplements for Cerebral Palsy

Supplements may help benefit overall health and development and address some of the risk factors for cerebral palsy. However, they are not a proper treatment for any medical condition. Make sure to consult a doctor before starting a supplement regimen and follow their instructions.

Ginger Root Extract

Ginger root acts as an antioxidant and can also help fight inflammation. It may be able to prevent inflammation associated with infections that lead to cerebral palsy. Studies show that it may also help treat joint pain, which might benefit CP patients. The recommended dosage for ginger root extract powder is 1,000 mg daily unless a physician recommends otherwise.

Fish Oil

Another popular supplement is fish oil. It is a healthy fat and offers a wide range of health benefits, including heart health. Also, studies show that it may help relieve arthritis symptoms, which cause inflammation, decreased mobility and joint pain, similar to cerebral palsy. As a dietary supplement, take one to two fish oil softgels per day, or following a doctor’s advice.

Asparagus Extract

The body needs folic acid to form red blood cells and asparagus has plenty of it. Folic acid helps the body produce new cells, which is especially important in pregnancy. Folic acid deficiencies can potentially cause neurological defects in infants. Asparagus is available as a supplemental extract. The recommended dosage for asparagus extract powder is 2,000 mg once a day unless a doctor advises a different dosage.

The Bottom Line

Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder with a wide range of causes, including maternal health conditions, infections and weakened immunity. It mostly affects infants and young children who have suffered from complications in pregnancy or childbirth that cause abnormal brain development. Different forms of CP cause different symptoms, but the condition typically causes extremely weak or stiff muscles, lack of balance and uncontrollable muscle spasms. Some patients also suffer from language or learning delays.

There is no cure for cerebral palsy, but physical and speech therapy can help patients increase mobility and develop language skills. Treatment aims to improve the patient’s daily life, as well as their loved ones that may be affected. Therapy prepares children for independence and the ability to lead a healthy and happy lifestyle. Supplements also offer health benefits that may be able to help prevent pregnancy complications, increase muscle strength and relieve joint pain. However, they are not an effective medical treatment for cerebral palsy, even though they may improve overall health. The important thing to remember is that one should never lose hope and strive for cerebral palsy awareness.

Author: BulkSupplements Staff