Cerebral Palsy in children: A complete guide for parents
Nearly 3.8% of the Indian population is affected by some form of disability. Out of these, around 15-20% of physically disabled children live with cerebral palsy. Despite the high numbers, there is a lack of awareness about this condition among parents. In this article, Dr Chirag Arora – best pediatric orthopaedic surgeon at the CK Birla Hospital discusses all you need to know about cerebral palsy meaning, its symptoms, treatment and more.
Here is everything you may need to learn about cerebral palsy.
What is cerebral palsy meaning?
Cerebral Palsy is a group of conditions that affect the movement, posture or co-ordination in a person.
The word ‘cerebral’ means the brain while the word ‘palsy’ signifies problems in muscles. Collectively, cerebral palsy is understood as a set of chronic conditions associated with the brain that affect the functioning and growth of muscles in a child.
What are the types of cerebral palsy?
These lifelong conditions differ in each child. The part of the brain affected in every child is varying. Thus, a distinct movement disorder can be seen in different separate patients.
Medical experts have categorised mainly four types of cerebral palsy in children:
Spastic cerebral palsy
Spastic Cerebral palsy is among the most common types of cerebral palsy. It can affect a child before, during or after birth. Under this condition, the motor activity of a child is impacted. Spastic cerebral palsy is further divided into three types:
- Spastic diplegia – This category of cerebral palsy affects the lower half of the child’s body. Diplegia causes extreme stiffness of the hip muscles and hinders the mobility of the child.
- Spastic hemiplegia – Spastic hemiplegia affects only one side of the body. One part of the body gains excess stiffness as compared to the other. In this condition, the patient’s arm is likely to remain more firm than his/her leg.
- Spastic quadriplegia – This sub-type affects all four limbs in a child. This is the most severe form types of cerebral palsy. A child who is affected by spastic quadriplegia suffers from intellectual difficulties, problems with hearing, speech and vision along with motor function.
Athetoid cerebral palsy
This classification is also known as dyskinetic cerebral palsy. Children who live with this condition who signs of both excessive stiffness and floppiness in their muscles. Athetoid is the second most common type of cerebral palsy.
Ataxic cerebral palsy
Ataxic cerebral palsy majorly impacts a child’s coordination capabilities. As a result of ataxic cerebral palsy, children are unable to control their movements and form balance.
Mixed cerebral palsy
Mixed cerebral palsy is when a child displays symptoms of more than one type of cerebral palsy. They will have difficulties in balance, highly stiff muscles, floppiness among other issues.
What are the common cerebral palsy symptoms?
Generally, cerebral palsy symptoms are detected after 2-3 years of the child’s birth. There is no fixed set of signs because every child is affected by this condition uniquely. However, there are some common cerebral palsy symptoms. These include:
- Postponed movement; for instance late walking or sitting
- Excessive stiffness or looseness in posture
- Weakness in arms and legs
- Moving with clumsiness
- No or limited control over body movements
- Learning difficulties
Medical help is given to the child depending upon the type and symptoms of cerebral palsy.
What are the cerebral palsy causes?
There are multiple causes. Some children acquire this condition since birth. However, some children develop cerebral palsy after being born; usually immediately after birth or during the initial 1-2 years of life.
Some of the common reasons for what causes cerebral palsy in children are:
- Underdevelopment of the brain in the womb
- Poor oxygen supply to the brain
- Bleeding in the brain
- Serious head or brain injury
- Infections of the brain such as meningitis and encephalitis
How can I identify cerebral palsy in my child?
Every so often, the early cerebral palsy symptoms go unnoticed by parents. It is important to keep a track of the baby’s growth to detect any medical condition.
Self-diagnosis of cerebral palsy can be a starting point. Parents should carefully monitor their child’s movements and functionality of body parts.
Things to watch out for:
- How your child holds things
- If they are leaning at a particular side most often
- If they cannot stand properly despite taking support
- If your child has an arched back
- If they fall backward whenever they are picked up
It is possible that your child is a slow learner. You should not jump to a conclusion almost immediately. A consistent check on the child’s movements and growth should be kept.
Also, read: Finding the permanent solution for clubfoot
What tests are done to medically diagnose cerebral palsy in children?
You should speak to your healthcare provider in case you detect a form of movement disorder in your child. Your doctor will examine your child’s health and do a thorough diagnosis.
There is a wide range of tests that are done to diagnose cerebral palsy. The type of tests performed depends upon the difficulty the child is facing.
Common tests and scans done to verify cerebral palsy in children are:
Brain scans: Imaging techniques like MRI, CT Scans and cranial ultrasounds. These are painless tests that may cause your child slight discomfort. They are used to develop detailed pictures of the brain.
Electroencephalogram (EEG): An EEG is done to check the electrical activity of your child’s brain. It is a safe test recommended for patients who suffer from seizures. A series of electrodes will be attached to the scalp of your child for this test.
Laboratory tests: Several types of tests like blood and urine tests will also be done as part of the diagnosis process.
Additional tests: A number of extra tests may be indicated to your child based on their specific medical difficulty. These include tests for:
What is cerebral palsy treatment?
Cerebral palsy in children is a lifelong condition that requires constant medical care. While there is no cure for these conditions, different treatment options are available that can help in managing the impact of symptoms.
Common cerebral palsy treatment includes:
Medicines – Specific medicines to treat muscle stiffness or floppiness can be given to children for the treatment of this condition. Mostly, medicines help in alleviating symptoms such as spasms, seizures and more. Muscle injections may also be offered by your doctor to help in tightening the nerves.
Physiotherapy – Physiotherapy is an important treatment option for cerebral palsy. Since it is a condition of the body movements, regular and specific physical exercises can help in improving motor function. Physiotherapy is also useful in the strengthening of muscles, improving flexibility and balance and enhancing movement.
Surgery – In some cases, surgical intervention may be required to treat cerebral palsy. There are some types of deformities that can be corrected with the use of surgery. Surgery can help in:
- Restoration of movement by repairing a tight muscle
- Correcting the curve of the spine
- Reducing stiffness in legs
Occupational therapy – Occupational therapy is beneficial in supporting the child to perform everyday tasks. Under this treatment type, a therapist assists the patient in the functioning of routine activities.
Speech and Language therapy – Some children who affected by cerebral palsy also suffer communication problems. Speech and language therapy provides them useful ways of communicating in a better way.
There are numerous other types of therapies and remedial methods that depend upon the type of cerebral palsy. Behavioral therapy, treatment for drooling, aqua-therapy and more are constructive ways of supporting patients.
Does cerebral palsy in children affect their life expectancy?
There is a common misbelief that cerebral palsy in children negatively impacts their life span. However, it is not true. A diagnosis of cerebral palsy does not affect the life expectancy of the child.
Nonetheless, children living with this condition will require continuous medical support throughout their life.
The concluding note
Cerebral palsy in children is a common movement disorder. It is significant to detect this condition at an early stage so that the right support can be offered to the patient. All new parents should pay attention to the bodily functions of their children. If they suspect any cerebral palsy symptoms, they should instantly seek clinical help.
For more information or personalised guidance, you can book an appointment with Dr. Chirag Arora Paediatric orthopaedics and sports injury specialist at CK Birla Hospital.
You can also read about cerebral palsy in Hindi here.