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Cerebral Palsy: The Types, Causes, and How to Deal with It

Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that affect a person’s motor movements, including balance and posture. 

The word cerebral means having or relating to the brain, and palsy, or paralysis accompanied by involuntary tremors. Caused by abnormal development or damage to a developing brain, this affects a person’s ability to control their muscles.  

The symptoms of CP vary depending on the extent of the damage and the condition of development of the person. In general, patients may present with impaired movement associated with exaggerated reflexes, floppiness or spasticity of limbs & trunk, unusual posture, involuntary movements, unsteady walking or a combination of these for some. Some may require special gear to be able to move around, others may not be able to walk at all, and need lifelong care. CP does not get worse, but its symptoms may change over time. 

Other symptoms that patients may present with are:

  • Delay in speech development
  • Delay in development of motor milestones (such as sitting or crawling)
  • Intellectual disabilities (including learning)
  • Delayed growth
  • Seizures
  • Vision problems and abnormal eye movements
  • Difficulty hearing
  • Difficulty sucking, chewing, or eating
  • Excessive drooling or problems with swallowing
  • Bladder and bowel problems

Types of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy is classified into five types, depending on the movement and body parts affected, as well as the severity of the symptoms.

1. Spastic CP – the most common iteration of the disorder. Characterized by muscle tightness, joint stiffness, and jerky movements.   
 
Spastic CP is subclassified according to the affected muscle groups or areas:  

  1. Spastic Diplegia/Diparesis – muscle stiffness mainly affects the legs, with minimal to no effects on the face and arms. People with spastic diplegia might have trouble walking. 
  1. Spastic Hemiplegia – muscle stiffness affects only one side of a person’s body with difficulty mainly experienced in the arm of the affected side.  
  1. Spastic Quadriplegia – the most severe type of spastic cerebral palsy, identified by motor dysfunction all over the body. 

2. Mixed CP – the second most common form of the condition. Here, the damage or injury to the brain is in more than one location. This disrupts several functions and leads them to develop more than one type of CP. Unique treatment plans treat unique combinations of symptoms.

3. Athetoid CP – also called non-spastic or dyskinetic CP, causes involuntary movements in the faces, limbs, and torso. Characterized mainly by a combination of hypo- and hypertonia, loosened and stiffened muscles respectively, causing muscle tone to shift.  

4. Ataxic CP – directly affects motor function, usually characterized by problems with balance and coordination. People with ataxic CP struggle with precise actions such as writing, controlling their hands, and grasping small objects.  

5. Hypotonic CP – the rarest form of CP, defined by low muscle tone, makes muscles floppy. As such, this hinders developmental milestones such as crawling, sitting up, or walking. While floppy, the muscles have strength but are lacking in stability.  

Complications

The symptoms of muscle weakness, muscle spasticity, and coordination contribute to the development of several complications, which may appear during childhood or adulthood. These are:

  • Contracture – shortening of muscle tissue due to severe muscle tightening because of spasticity. This can affect bone growth which may cause joint deformities and dislocation.
  • Malnutrition – swallowing and feeding problems pose as a challenge for CP patients to get nutrition. This can impair growth and weaken bones. Some patients may need a feeding tube to aid in feeding.
  • Mental Health Conditions – social isolation and the challenges of coping with the disabilities that accompany the condition can contribute to depression.
  • Heart and Lung Disease – patients may develop these as well as other breathing disorders. Swallowing problems may predispose the patient to Aspiration Pneumonia (lung infection caused by saliva, food, liquid, or small foreign objects being inhaled into the lungs instead of being swallowed).
  • Osteoarthritis – pressure on joints or abnormal alignment of joints from muscle spasticity may lead to the early onset of this painful degenerative bone disease.

Treatment

Medical care would entail a team of doctors who would work together to address the needs and issues that are common in patients with CP. There is no cure for the condition, however, there are several treatment options that can be done to alleviate the symptoms. 

Actively dealing with the condition will help secure the best quality of life for children as they turn older. If detected and tackled early, treatment plans can be created to suit the patient’s specific needs.  
 
Different treatments for Cerebral Palsy include:  

  • Medication – muscle relaxants and pain medications can be used to improve functional abilities, address pain, and manage complications related to spasticity or other CP symptoms.
  • Surgery – may be needed to lessen muscle tightness or correct bone anomalies due to spasticity.
  • Therapy – helps in improving mobility and brain cognition. A variety of therapies can be done to address the different symptoms of the condition such as physical, occupational, speech & language, and recreational therapy.
  • Assistive Devices and Mobility Aids – specialized equipment can be used by individuals with CP to help with sensory, communication, and mobility issues.

Should you want to know more about Cerebral Palsy, reach out to our specialist doctors for a consultation! We are open 24/7, even on holidays. 

 
References: 
https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/cp/facts.html 
https://www.cerebralpalsyguide.com/cerebral-palsy/types/