Cerebral palsy is a partial to severe motor disability that is present during childbirth or develops at very early age. In very rare cases, cerebral palsy can also develop in adults; although there is not much attention given to adult onset cerebral palsy due to its very rare occurrence. Though cerebral palsy patients have movement and sometimes speech abnormalities, they are not, however, caused by damaged nerves or muscles. They are caused by damage in the area of the brain called the motor cortex that controls voluntary motor functions. Cerebral palsy is non-progressive; therefore, the condition will not worsen over time. However, it will not improve over time also.
Causes of cerebral palsy
There are many risk factors for cerebral palsy, but all of them boils down to the damage done on the part of the brain that controls movement. Majority of cerebral palsy patients had the brain damage while they were inside their mothers' womb. The damage could also happen during childbirth and it could also happen in infancy while the child is growing. Although adult onset cerebral palsy can happen, but the rate of occurrence is very rare so that there's no established causes of adult onset cerebral palsy documented.
Infection on the mother during pregnancy such as German measles, chicken pox, cytomegalovirus, toxoplasmosis, and syphilis are known to cause cerebral palsy. Babies and infants infected with meningitis and viral encephalitis are also known to develop the condition. The brain can also be damaged by lead and mercury poisoning and radiation; these are also known risk factors. Premature infants and infants from multiple-birth pregnancy are at high risk of developing cerebral palsy also.
Symptoms of cerebral palsy
The physical manifestations of cerebral palsy depend on the severity of the brain damage. However, all symptoms point to motor coordination difficulties such as lack of muscular coordination for voluntary movements. Muscles can either be too floppy or too stiff, and in severe cases, musculoskeletal deformities are also manifested.
The most prominent symptoms include spasm, spasticity, involuntary movements, balance problem, and unsteady gait. Some also walks with knees crisscrossing (scissor walking) and others walk resembling the gait of a marionette (toe walking). Some patients also exhibit difficulty in speaking or swallowing so that they need special care when it comes to feeding. The musculoskeletal symptoms of cerebral palsy include babies born with deformities such as spinal curvature, small head, or a small jawbone.
Care and management of cerebral palsy
Since there is no known cure for cerebral palsy, all a doctor can do is recommend an extensive physical and speech therapy and later on occupational therapy to cerebral palsy patients. This is to maximize a patient's remaining ability to control his or her movement. A specialized doctor can also perform surgeries to correct musculoskeletal problems or sever nerves to stop muscle spasticity. Muscle relaxant medications can also be given to stop spasticity if only temporary. In adults, Botox may also be given to achieve the same effect as severing nerve or muscle relaxant. Botox injection provides longer relief than medications but still temporary unlike severing nerves.