Cerebral Palsy – A Dismal Truth

To a large extent, cerebral palsy is still a largely misunderstood condition by many people. The misunderstanding arises due to the broad spectrum of symptoms and severities associated with this condition. Cerebral palsy is basically a condition that arises due to an injury to the developing brain during the pregnancy, delivery or during the post-birth care. It is called cerebral palsy because the part of brain permanently damaged is called the cerebrum; there is no cure for this condition, only supportive therapies to improve the quality of life.

Put in simple language, cerebral palsy (CP) causes tightening of muscles in various parts of the body, resulting in loss of control over reflex actions; these can lead to further problems like visual disability, speech difficulties, intellectual retardation or trouble in sitting upright, standing or walking.

These injuries are rarely due to genetic factors, but mostly a result of medical negligence by the medical staff including doctors, nurses, midwives or obstetricians – in which case, action should be taken at the earliest. What many parents are unaware of is that their disabled child is due for lifetime benefits from the hospital, if it’s proved to be due to medical negligence. These lifetime benefits would go a long way in providing for years of therapy, medical expenses, assistive technology as well as daily living expenses.

Some of the common causes of CP include asphyxia, infections, brain hemorrhage, prenatal exposure to alcohol, mercury poisoning from fish, fatal head injuries during or after birth, premature birth, low blood sugar or rarely, genetic problems. However, 40% of cases are of idiopathic etiology.

Misconceptions about the condition flourish in spite of the fact that it is the most common motor disability (trouble moving the body) of childhood, affecting nearly 1 in every 323 children in the US, and 1 in every 400 children in the UK. CP can be classified into 4 categories:

Spastic CP – About 70% of cases fall in this category and present with stiff movements and exaggerated reflexes.

Dyskinetic CP – Seen in 10% of children and associated with balancing and coordination issues, presenting as involuntary tremors.

Ataxic CP – Also seen in 10% of cases, it has to do with an absence of coordination and problems of body balance.

Mixed CP – Such patients present with a mix of the above-mentioned types and form 10% of the cases too.

Symptoms of patients with CP are diverse in nature and mainly include trouble in walking or standing as they may be partially paralyzed. Other problems like learning and speech difficulties, intellectual disabilities along with difficulties in having thoughts, emotions, feeling and learning are an unfortunate lot for the children with CP. While many children cannot walk or talk, 1 in 3 children presents with hip displacement and 1 in 4 with epilepsy. Other debilitating symptoms include dribbling in 1 of every 5, no bladder control in 1 out of 4, behavioral disorders in 1 out of 4, blindness in 1 out of every 10 and deafness in 1 out of 25 cases of CP. Sadly, 5-10% of theses children die before attaining maturity.

Parents with CP children should keep checking for brain development milestones, although these may vary. Treatment is usually divided into early life treatment and life-long management; treatment is not about cure, but more about helping the child lead a sufficiently independent life. It’s advisable to seek help from a multi-disciplinary team of medical experts to take care of all the affected parts f the child. Every avenue should be explored to help your child lead a better life.