Birth Defects Brain Nervous System Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a condition affecting the brain and its ability to send information to the body. Cerebral palsy does not involve problems with muscles or nerves; rather, it affects the brain’s ability to transmit messages to the muscles.

Cerebral palsy has a number of causes, and may present as a congenital condition (present from birth). Individuals with CP may have trouble walking, talking and moving due to these problems with initiating muscle movement and muscle control. CP can have varying levels of severity.

Types of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy can be characterized as one of four types:

  • Ataxic cerebral palsy: Exhibiting particular difficulty with balance and coordination
  • Athetoid/dyskinetic cerebral palsy: Characterized by involuntary movements, often described as “writhing” movements
  • Hypotonic palsy: Characterized by reduced muscle tone and “floppy” appearance
  • Spastic cerebral palsy: Characterized by stiff muscles and difficulty moving; spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type of CP
  • Mixed palsy: A combination of any of the above types.

CP can affect one side of the body, the legs only or all four limbs. Though it may not always be noted at birth, cerebral palsy symptoms become visible by two to three years of age, and sometimes earlier.

Along with the motor symptoms, other conditions may occur with cerebral palsy, including:

  • Cognitive limitations (however, intelligence may be normal)
  • Pain
  • Problems with hearing or vision
  • Respiratory problems
  • Seizures
  • Slow growth
  • Speech problems, called dysarthria
  • Swallowing or feeding problems.

Cerebral Palsy Causes

Cerebral palsy is a complex group of conditions that can have a number of different causes. All result in damage to the developing brain (either while the mother is pregnant, or before age two), and result in problems with motor control.

Sources of damage to the brain that result in congenital CP can include:

  • Anoxia, or oxygen deprivation in the brain
  • Fetal or maternal infection
  • Jaundice, a problem with liver function, in which excess levels of bilirubin in the body have toxic effects on the brain
  • Prenatal exposure to toxins
  • Uncontrolled maternal blood pressure causing a stroke in the fetus, resulting in brain damage.

Cerebral Palsy Treatment

As it is caused by congenital or acquired damage to the brain, no cure has been found for CP. However, treatment with occupational, physical and speech therapy can help affected children to improve levels of function in daily life. Drugs to control muscle movement and seizure activity are also used in some cases.

Early intervention and treatment are important for the successful management of CP. Cerebral palsy does not affect a person’s life expectancy, but individuals with severe CP need lifelong care and assistance.


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