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Cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affect a person's ability to move and maintain balance and posture. Cerebral palsy happens when the areas of the brain that control movement and posture do not develop correctly or are damaged. This may occur while a fetus (unborn baby in the womb) through early childhood. Causes of cerebral palsy include:

  • Genetic defects or missing genes
  • Infections of the mother during pregnancy (such as rubella)
  • Damage to the fetus due to toxins or reduced blood flow
  • Head injury or brain infections after birth

Symptoms can include:

  • Being physically clumsy
  • Muscles that are too stiff or floppy
  • Disturbance in walking
  • Excessive drooling or problems swallowing or speaking
  • Shaking or other movements that can't be controlled
  • Problems with fine motor skills, such as writing or buttoning a shirt

The symptoms of cerebral palsy differ from one person to the next. One person with cerebral palsy may be only slightly awkward and need no special assistance. Yet another may be unable to walk and need a lot of care.

Cerebral palsy has no cure. But many children go on to lead near-normal adult lives if they receive appropriate treatment. In general, the earlier treatment begins the better chance children have of overcoming developmental delays or learning new ways of doing things to overcome physical disabilities. The need for therapy and the kinds of therapy required change from childhood through adulthood.

Adults with cerebral palsy are living longer than they once did. Living longer has resulted in medical and functional problems, some which begin at a fairly young age. These include:

Day-to-day challenges faced in the workplace and home are likely to increase as people with cerebral palsy age. Accommodations at work and at home can help people with cerebral palsy maintain independence. Because many people with cerebral palsy outlive their caregivers, planning for long-term care also is important.

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Content last updated: September 22, 2009.

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