What is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a condition associated with birth injury. It is a term used to describe a number of disorders affecting brain function and body movement. It specifically affects muscle, motor, and coordination skills. The symptoms can vary depending on the type of CP – from involuntary spasms to lack of muscle tone throughout the entire body. Learning disabilities, developmental disabilities, and seizures are associated with CP.

Types of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy can take on several forms, and each looks somewhat different. It is important to know what different types of cerebral palsy look like in order to understand the level of functional impairment a person may have.

Cerebral palsy can be classified based on the severity of two different parameters (click here for information on other classification schemes):

  • Limb Involvement: This cerebral palsy classification system is based on which limbs are affected by the brain injury.
  • Motor Disturbance: This cerebral palsy classification system is based on the nature of the movement (motor) disturbance.

Limb Involvement Classification

  • Diplegia: Diplegic cerebral palsy affects limbs on opposite sides of the body. For instance, a person with diplegic cerebral palsy would have limited movement in both legs or both arms.
  • Hemiplegia or hemiparesis: Hemiplegic cerebral palsy affects one side of the body. For instance, a person with hemiplegic cerebral palsy would have limited movement in the left or right side of the body, including both the leg and the arm.
  • Quadriplegia or quadriparesis: Quadriplegic cerebral palsy affects all four limbs. A person with quadriplegic cerebral palsy will have movement limitations in both legs and both arms.

Motor Disturbance Classification

  • Spastic Cerebral Palsy: Spastic cerebral palsy causes the muscles to be very tight and stiff, a condition known as hypertonia. This is because too many muscles become active all at once. Instead of the muscles coordinating in pairs the way they are supposed to, with one muscle group contracting while the other group relaxes, the muscles become active at the same time. This causes the person to have jerky movements. A person with spastic cerebral palsy typically has a “scissor gait,” which means that their knees and thighs may cross or touch while walking, and they may be crouched and walk on their tip toes.
  • Athetoid/Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy (ADCP): Athetoid/dyskinetic cerebral palsy causes movements to be slow and writhing or fast and jerky. People with ADCP have mixed muscle tone –  both hypertonia and hypotonia (limpness) – and may have trouble holding themselves in an upright position
  • Ataxic Cerebral Palsy: Ataxic cerebral palsy mainly causes problems with coordination, and the affected individual may have hypotonia and tremors.  It also is common for people with this type of cerebral palsy to have trouble seeing and hearing.
  • Other Important Terms:
    • Rigidity: Rigidity is characterized by extremely tight muscles and muscular resistance to movement.
    • Tremor: Tremors are characterized by the uncontrollable shaking of muscles. Tremors interfere with coordination.

Causes of Cerebral Palsy

Causes of Cerebral PalsyThere are a number of factors that cause cerebral palsy. Some cases are caused by hereditary or brain development issues while others are due to medical negligence or malpractice, like a doctor failing to properly diagnose and treat a problem during labor and delivery.

Specific causes of cerebral palsy include:

Common Questions About Cerebral Palsy

How Common is Cerebral Palsy in the United States?

Cerebral palsy is one of the most common disorders of childhood in the United States. About 8,000 babies and infants are diagnosed each year with cerebral palsy. An additional 1200-1500 preschool age children are diagnosed with cerebral palsy each year as well, for a total of 9200-9500 children diagnosed a year.

How Does Cerebral Palsy Affect the Brain?

Cerebral palsy affects the communication between the brain and the body. In cerebral palsy, the parts of the brain that tell the body how to move are damaged, resulting in motor disability. The underlying brain injury that causes cerebral palsy can also sometimes have other effects on the brain, such as cognitive or language-related limitations. Cerebral palsy, however, refers strictly to a disorder in motor function.

How are Babies Born with Cerebral Palsy?

The causes of cerebral palsy in babies vary. Some babies are born with cerebral palsy due to issues during pregnancy, while others develop cerebral palsy because of something that occurred during labor and delivery. In many cases, cerebral palsy is caused by medical malpractice, in which a doctor doesn’t provide the right medical care or doesn’t diagnose a problem in time, resulting in brain damage.

Can Cerebral Palsy Get Worse?

Cerebral palsy is not a progressive disease. The initial brain injury that causes the cerebral palsy does not worsen with time. However, cerebral palsy can sometimes get worse over time in the sense that symptoms of cerebral palsy (such as muscle tightness or dystonia) can intensify over time, especially when children hit puberty. However, many of these symptoms can be improved with physical therapy and other treatments.

What is Mild Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is classified in a few different ways. One of these ways is by the level of functional limitation the disorder produces, which is measured using a system called the GMFCS (Gross Motor Function Classification System). Mild cerebral palsy may affect an individual less than a severe case of cerebral palsy, resulting in fewer severe limitations.

Can Drug Use Cause Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy can occur due to numerous factors. Some of these factors are related to medical malpractice; some of them are related to external factors. The use of certain drugs, such as cocaine, makes mothers high-risk, and high-risk pregnancies have a higher chance of birth complications that can cause a child to have cerebral palsy. Certain drugs increase the risk of birth defects and congenital malformations that can lead to cerebral palsy. It is the medical professional’s responsibility to understand drug risks and counsel women about which drugs are acceptable during pregnancy and which ones may pose risks to their unborn baby.

Can a Person with Cerebral Palsy Have a Baby?

Individuals with cerebral palsy can have children, as cerebral palsy does not affect fertility. There may be additional considerations you may want to discuss with your doctor, such as how the medications you take may affect the baby, or how pregnancy, labor, and delivery may impact your spasticity.

Legal Help for Cerebral Palsy

If you are seeking the help of a cerebral palsy lawyer, it is very important to choose a lawyer and firm that focus solely on birth injury cases.  Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers is a national birth injury law firm that has been helping children with birth injuries for almost 3 decades.

We have helped children throughout the country obtain compensation for lifelong treatment, therapy, and a secure future, and we give personal attention to each child and family we represent. Our firm has numerous multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements that attest to our success, and no fees are ever paid to our firm until we win your case.

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Related Resources

Video: Michigan Cerebral Palsy Lawyers Discuss Birth Injury

What is cerebral palsy and what causes it?View our video library to see Michigan cerebral palsy lawyers Jesse Reiter & Rebecca Walsh discuss causes of and treatments for cerebral palsy and other birth injuries.