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Understanding Cerebral Palsy

More than 500,000 Americans have some degree of cerebral palsy. Three thousand people are born with the condition each year, and approximately 500 others acquire cerebral palsy in early childhood.

Cerebral palsy ("cerebral" refers to the brain and "palsy" means to deprive of action or energy) is not a disease, but a condition caused by damage to parts of the brain that control muscle coordination, balance and purposeful movement. Most commonly, injury occurs to the developing brain of a fetus or newborn. Preventive measures are increasingly possible, and include ensuring the well-being of mothers prior to conception, adequate prenatal care and the protection of infants from accidents and injuries.

Individuals with cerebral palsy may be affected differently, depending on the specific areas of the brain that have been damaged. Muscle tightness or spasm, involuntary movement, and disturbance in gait and mobility are common effects. Individuals also may experience abnormal sensations and perceptions; sight, hearing or speech impairment; seizures. Related problems may include difficulties in feeding, bladder and bowel control, difficulty breathing due to posture, skin disorders from pressure sores, and learning disabilities.

Infants in the high-risk category for cerebral palsy can be tense and irritable, experience difficulty eating and lag in developing muscle control. Early identification - often possible through routine physical examinations - is important for children with cerebral palsy. With support and care from informed parents and the help of a variety of professionals (physicians, physical and occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, nurses, social workers, teachers and others) children with cerebral palsy can actively participate in their schools and communities.



Prenatal Events:

Insufficient oxygen or blood flow to the fetal or newborn brain, which can be caused by:

Head injuries causing brain damage in infants and young children, commonly the result of:


Preventive measures for women include:

Preventive measures for children include:


Managing cerebral palsy usually involves all aspects of physical, mental, social and emotional growth and development. The wide variety of programs and services that contribute to management of the condition include special education, counseling and guidance, vocational training and placement, recreation and leisure activities, independent living arrangements, transportation and other support services that may lead to participation in an unrestricted environment.

Specifically, treatment and management of cerebral palsy may include:

Related Content: Living with Cerebral Palsy

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