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Cerebral palsy

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Cerebral palsy is described as a group of non-progressive, non-contagious conditions that generally affects both physical and mental functioning of affected individuals. It is one of the most common congenital defects among children which can occur before or during birth. An estimated 500,000 children and adults in the United States alone have the disorder. As a non-progressive condition, the brain damage does not get worse although physical difficulties can still later on result. It also cannot be passed on from one individual to the next.

The cerebrum is the most commonly affected area of the brain in cerebral palsy patients although some parts of the cerebral cortex and cerebellum may also be involved at times. Palsy is described as dysfunctional movement and orthopedic difficulties. About 75% of cases occur during pregnancy, 5% during childbirth and 15% after birth up to 3 years of age. Adults with cerebral palsy will most likely experience arthritic problems sooner. The problem is considered to be the second most expensive to manage over a lifetime.

CEREBRAL PALSY SYMPTOMS

Some symptoms of cerebral palsy may not manifest until the individual is 1 to 3 years old. Developmental delays are the initial signs of the condition although it may already be present before or during birth. Newborn reflexes may remain with unreached developmental milestones. Severe symptoms or specific types of the disorder can manifest at birth as evidenced by difficulty in sucking or swallowing, weak or shrill cry, unusual positions like a very stiff or overly relaxed body and an arched back and extended extremities when carried.

Some of the symptoms are more noticeable as a child matures such as smaller muscles in affected legs or arms. The child may also have difficulty or not be able to move the affected extremities. Abnormal sensations and perceptions may be present like difficulty identifying objects by touch and excessive pain felt in mild activities or touch. The person may drool excessively, have skin irritation, experience dental problems and gingivitis, develop infection and become more prone to accidents due to poor muscle control, seizures, weakness and joint stiffness. Other associated symptoms include irritability, excessive sleepiness and apathy.

The three major types of cerebral palsy are spastic, ataxic and athetotic. Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common form among children as evidenced by stiff muscles and difficulty in movement. Both legs, one side of the body or all four limbs and the trunk can be affected. Ataxic cerebral palsy is the least common as evidenced by lack of balance and coordination. Athetotic cerebral palsy is also known as extrapyramidal CP as evidenced by uncontrolled slow movements since it affects the whole body.

CEREBRAL PALSY CAUSES

The main cause of most cerebral palsy types is still unknown. However, there are several contributing factors that can lead to the disorder such as hypoxia, asphyxia, birth trauma and central nervous system infection in the mother, baby or both. The occurrence of the condition is also higher among premature babies, low birth weight and multiple births. Other causes are also present after birth such as toxins, lead poisoning, physical brain damage, shaken baby syndrome, near drowning, jaundice, encephalitis, structural brain anomalies like lessencephaly and meningitis. Cerebral palsy is not genetic but the problem can be cause by rare chromosomal disorders. Basically, the disorder lies with a person having a damaged brain or not having a normal brain to begin with.
Cerebral palsy
Image: Cerebral Palsy

CEREBRAL PALSY TREATMENT

There is no cure for cerebral palsy but there are several therapies and approaches that can help individuals cope with the effects for a richer life. The techniques revolve around trying to help children overcome and reach developmental milestones and become mentally and physically functional. Physical therapy or PT helps by strengthening the physical aspect to improve gait, flexibility and volitional movement. Patients are advised to engage in PT for life in order to maintain good muscle tone, bone structure and joint location.

Occupational therapy helps children and adults cope despite their physical limitations by performing different productive tasks and functions. It teaches them to live independently and interact with their surrounding and external demands appropriately. Speech therapy helps patients gain control of mouth and jaw muscles to effectively express themselves through communication. Since cerebral palsy can hinder proper talking, breathing and eating, individuals need to be guided accordingly.

Some devices are also used such as orthotic materials or ankle-foot orthoses or AFO which improve gait and movement. These help patients perform more without straining too much and wasting energy needlessly. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves introducing relative amounts of oxygen to the brain to support different tasks and improve perception. Diet and exercise can help improve patients’ conditions a lot. Some types of food can actually improve nutritional deficiencies paving the way to improved physical functioning. Physical exercise and massage help keep joints stable and flexible and muscles strong and well-conditioned. Cord blood therapy and conductive education are also indicated.


Behavioral therapy aims to boost the patient’s self-esteem and encourage independence. A number of durgs may also be given to control spasticity such as diazepam, dantrolene and baclofen which inhibit chemical occurrences in the central nervous system. Surgery may be done on patients who have extreme muscle contractions. The procedure usually involves lengthening the tendons to improve flexibility and movement.

CEREBRAL PALSY PREVENTION

Pregnant women need to take better care of themselves to lower the risk of their babies having cerebral palsy. A healthy diet, regular exercise and adequate rest will ensure proper fetal development. They should also watch out for conditions that can lead to low birth weight or premature delivery. Accidents that can cause brain trauma and lead poisoning should be avoided as much as possible. Babies born normally should be taken care of properly to prevent trauma and brain damage. The entire house should be childproofed. Infants should be carried properly or strapped well in a car seat when traveling. Some causes of cerebral palsy are not fully known so preventive measures are also undefined.
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