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About Cerebral Palsy
Risk and Prevention
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Effects and Conditions
Education and Patients
Exactly what is cerebral palsy? Cerebral palsy, or static encephalopathy, is the collective name used to describe a spectrum of chronic movement disorders affecting body and muscle coordination. These disorders are usually caused by damage to one or more areas of the brain. The movement problems can vary from barely noticeable to extremely severe.
Cerebral palsy is not an inherited disorder, and as of now there is no way to predict which children will be affected by the condition. Cerebral palsy is also not diagnosable at birth but usually within the first three years of life. No two people with cerebral palsy are the same; it is as individual as the people themselves.
The name stems from “cerebral” referring to the brain and “palsy” to poor muscle control or muscle weakness. The parts of the body that provide movement, such as the muscles, nerves, and spinal cord are normal. The brain, which is responsible for sending messages to those parts of the body that coordinate movement, is unable to do so. The affected muscles can become rigid or excessively loose, or the person may exhibit loss of muscle control, or have balance and coordination problems. Cerebral palsy is a condition, not a disease, and therefore is not communicable.
Cerebral palsy usually occurs during fetal development before, during, or shortly after birth, or during infancy. Seventy percent of cerebral palsy cases occur in the womb. The other 30 percent occur due to delivery complications or post birth trauma. Although its symptoms may change over time, cerebral palsy is primarily not a progressive condition, as brain damage does not get worse. However, secondary conditions associated with cerebral palsy, such as muscle tightness, tend to change with age, most likely deteriorating due to physical stress. It is possible, with proper treatment, for conditions to improve or, at least, stay the same.
Training and therapy, as well as new techniques such as botox injections, can help to improve function for those challenged with cerebral palsy. Other complications can develop as well. Some individuals with cerebral palsy may have seizure disorders while others may experience problems with vision, such as Strabismus. In some instances, individuals with cerebral palsy may experience dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing. Learning disabilities are also a possibility. Problems may arise in bowel and bladder control, as well as in hearing or speech, and in overall motor control.
Cerebral palsy currently affects nearly 3/4 of a million people in the United States and is diagnosed in an additional 8,000 babies and infants each year. Although cerebral palsy is often preventable with the proper prenatal and neonatal care, there has been no reduction in the number of diagnosis. Medical science's advancements have led to the survival of more premature and low birth weight newborns, which are commonly afflicted with cerebral palsy. Through continued research we have a better understanding of exactly what cerebral palsy is and how it can be prevented.