Cerebral palsy (CP) is a non-progressive, neurological condition that often causes physical disabilities, cognitive impairments, epilepsy, and other complex health issues. While there’s no cure for cerebral palsy, medication can help alleviate many of the side effects. Medicines are commonly prescribed in order to control seizures, spasticity, and pain; however, because each case of cerebral palsy is unique, medication needs can vary depending on the severity of CP and the specific medical and lifestyle needs of the individual.
Medication for Cerebral Palsy
Anticholinergic Medications for Cerebral Palsy
Anticholinergic drugs are often prescribed to help control and improve involuntary body movements such as muscle contractions, spasms, or spasticity. In addition, anticholinergic medications can help with excessive drooling, a common side effect of cerebral palsy. Anticholinergic drugs work by blocking acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter in the brain. When acetylcholine is blocked, certain parasympathetic nerve responses are inhibited, which lessens the severity of involuntary body movements and helps provide control and stability to people with cerebral palsy.
There are several types of anticholinergic medications that doctors often prescribe to help with cerebral palsy symptoms. Which one a particular person will benefit most from depends on their needs and on the associated side effects of the drug (i.e., dry mouth, constipation, blurry vision). The following anticholinergic medications may benefit people with cerebral palsy:
- Benztropine mesylate
- Carbidopa-levodopa (Sinemet)
- Glycopyrrolate (Robinul)
- Procyclidine hydrochloride (Kemadrin)
- Trihexyphenidyl hydrochloride
Anticonvulsant Medications for Cerebral Palsy
Seizures are very common in children and adults with cerebral palsy. The treatment for seizures is dependent on the type, frequency, and the root cause of the seizure. Anticonvulsants are drugs that reduce the excessive brain stimulation that causes seizures, thereby inhibiting seizure activity.
There are many different types of anticonvulsant medications that help prevent seizures through a range of mechanisms. Doctors may decide to prescribe one medication over another based on the side effects of the medication (i.e. dizziness, drowsiness, fatigue, and more) and on the specific needs of their patient. Some common anticonvulsants that can help people with cerebral palsy are:
- Benztropine (Cogentin)
- Carbamazepine (Tegretol)
- Carbidopa-levodopa (Sinemet)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin, Rivotril)
- Depakene/Valproic acid (Valproate, Valrelease)
- Divalproex Sodium (Epival)
- Ethosuximide (Zarontin)
- Gabapentin (Neurontin)
- Glycopyrrolate (Cuvposa, Robinul)
- Lamotrigine (Lamictal)
- Oxcarbazepine (Trileptal)
- Phenytoin (Dilantin)
- Topiramate (Topamax)
- Trihexyphenidyl (Artane)
- Zonisamide (Zonegran)
Antidepressants for Cerebral Palsy
Many people with chronic conditions like cerebral palsy may develop depression over the course of their lives. Depression is complex and often does not have one root cause, although certain aspects of physical disability (including perceived limitations, chronic pain, dependence on others, social isolation, and more) may contribute to depression in those with cerebral palsy. Antidepressants, which alter brain chemistry to help boost and regulate moods, can often be prescribed to help ease the symptoms of depression. Often, drug therapy is used in combination with other treatment methods (behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, etc.) to enhance the benefits of the medication.
Like other medications, antidepressants often cause side-effects like headaches, agitation, nausea, and more. Physicians should be aware of these side-effects, as well as the predicted combination of antidepressants and concurrent medications when deciding on an antidepressant to prescribe. Common antidepressant drugs include:
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Escitalopram (Lexapro)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
Muscle Relaxants for Cerebral Palsy
Muscle relaxants (also called antispastics) are often prescribed to help relax contracted, overactive, stiff, or spastic muscles. These medications work by increasing the range of motion or inhibiting involuntary muscle contractions. Some antispastic drugs act as an analgesic by directly calming the muscles, while others alter brain chemistry to deliver the intended effect. Most commonly, muscle relaxants are administered orally in pill form or by injection into the intended site. In some cases, however, an intrathecal baclofen pump (which is surgically placed above the abdomen) may be preferable.
The side-effects of muscle relaxants differ based on the type, the dosage, and the individual medical and lifestyle needs of the patient. Some common side effects are nausea, drowsiness, constipation, and more. Muscle relaxants that can help people with cerebral palsy include:
- Botox (injections)
- Cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril)
- Dantrolene (Dantrium)
- Diazepam (Valium)
Anti-Inflammatory Medications for Cerebral Palsy
Many people with cerebral palsy experience chronic, intense pain. This pain can originate from cerebral palsy itself, or from the surgery, therapy, or other medications used in treatment. Anti-inflammatory drugs can alleviate inflammation in certain parts of the body, thereby making the pain more manageable.
Pain medications with anti-inflammatory properties must be administered with discretion, as they may be dangerous to certain populations such as children or pregnant women. Physicians should consider these factors and those related to side-effects and dosage before prescribing these drugs. Three categories of anti-inflammatory drugs commonly used by people with cerebral palsy are:
- Over-the-counter medications (Aspirin, Tylenol, Aleeve)
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Anti-inflammatory corticosteroids
Laxatives and Stool Softeners for Cerebral Palsy
Many people with cerebral palsy may struggle with constipation and other gastrointestinal and digestive issues. Because of this, products like laxatives and stool softeners may help to eliminate waste from the digestive tract. Oftentimes these products are used in combination with a healthy high-fiber diet to ease these issues.
Legal Help for Cerebral Palsy and Other Birth Injuries
Affording adequate medical care can be difficult as treatments and medication can be very expensive. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy as the result of medical malpractice, you should not have to pay for these expenses yourself. Contact our award-winning medical malpractice attorneys for help with your legal questions. Our team exclusively handles birth injury cases, giving us the experience and skill necessary to win these complicated lawsuits. Contact us today for a free case review.
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- Hoda Z Abdel-Hamid, “Cerebral Palsy Medication,” Medscape (2016).
- “Cerebral Palsy Information Page,” National Institute of Neurological Disorder and Stroke.
- Stanley J Sweierzewski, “Medications to Treat Cerebral Palsy Symptoms,” Remedy’s Health Communities (2000).