October 25, 2017
Cerebral palsy is a group of permanent movement disorders caused by damage to the brain before, during, or shortly after birth. Life expectancy is relatively unaffected in the majority of sufferers, but it can be reduced in severe cases.
Cerebral palsy can be caused by various things including bleeding in the brain, reduced oxygen supply to the brain, an infection caught by the mother during pregnancy such as rubella, asphyxiation during birth, meningitis, or a serious head injury in infancy. CP occurs in around 2.1 per 1000 live births.
The symptoms of CP can vary hugely from person to person. There are three types of CP that present in different ways – Spastic Cerebral Palsy is characterized by tight and stiff muscles, Ataxic Cerebral Palsy is characterized by decreased muscle tone and coordination problems, and Athetoid Cerebral Palsy features uncontrolled, involuntary movements. 28% of people with CP have epilepsy, 58% have communication problems, 42% have vision problems and between 23 and 56% have learning difficulties of some kind.
Other symptoms of CP include limb weakness, tremors, walking on tip-toes, delay in learning to walk or not learning to walk at all, drooling, swallowing difficulty, insomnia, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), scoliosis, hip dislocation, incontinence and hearing loss.
CP is not a progressive disorder – the damage to the brain does not worsen with age. However, symptoms can worsen with ageing. Treatments for CP include physical therapy and speech therapy to improve movement and speech. Some medications are used to relax stiff muscles or treat symptoms such as epilepsy. Braces and assistive technology is often used, and surgery is often necessary to lengthen muscles and cut overly active nerves.
The severity of the condition and the care provided can have a big impact on life expectancy. The most common cause of death for people with CP is respiratory illnesses. Additionally, in middle age, cardiovascular disease and tumours are more common than in the general population.