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Medical Problems with Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a condition that many parents are not prepared to deal with upon the birth of their new child. It is an extremely difficult time for everyone involved, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. As the child becomes older, additional medical problems with cerebral palsy can become evident and necessitate new treatment.

Mental retardation is one of the more common medical problems with cerebral palsy. It has been estimated that more than one half of children with cerebral palsy have problems with intellectual functioning such as thinking and problem solving. While mental retardation may be common, some cerebral palsy patients have average abilities with only some learning disorders. Some patients even exhibit minimal medical problems with cerebral palsy and have perfectly normal intelligence.

Cerebral palsy seizures are another common medical problem. One third of cerebral palsy patients have or will develop seizures, caused by lesions or scars on the brain. Seizures sometimes develop later on in childhood, but fortunately they can usually be controlled with medications.

Additional medical problems with cerebral palsy can include vision difficulties. Brain damage can affect the coordination of the eye muscles. Three quarters of children with cerebral palsy have strabismus, a problem with one eye turning in or out, with or without nearsightedness. The vision in the affected eye will gradually worsen and will be lost permanently without treatment. Regular vision checkups are important in order to prevent blindness.

Two medical problems with cerebral palsy that go hand in hand are limb shortening and scoliosis. Half of children suffering from hemiplegia (cerebral palsy affecting only one side of the body) will develop a shortening of the involved leg and arm. While the difference between the legs is rarely more than two inches, an orthopedic surgeon should be consulted if shortening is noticed. A heel or sole lift may be prescribed to fit into the shoe on the shorter side and to prevent a tilt of the pelvis, and scoliosis. Severe cases may require surgery to correct a serious degree of scoliosis.

Dental problems with cerebral palsy are another difficulty with patients. Children with cerebral palsy tend to have an above average number of cavities due to enamel defects and in some cases difficulty brushing their teeth.

Hearing loss is another medical problem with cerebral palsy. Complete or partial hearing loss is possible in some children with cerebral palsy. Hearing loss with cerebral palsy commonly a result of severe jaundice at birth. A baby that does not blink or react to loud noises by 1 month, or is not turning his head toward a sound by 3 months to 4 months, or is not saying words by 12 months, could be suffering from hearing loss.

Joint difficulties are a common medical problem of cerebral palsy. It is often difficult to prevent "contracture," a stiffening of the joints caused by the unequal pull of one muscle over the other in children with spastic cerebral palsy. Stretching the muscles can sometimes help to prevent the onset of contracture. Sometimes braces, casting, or medication may be used to improve joint mobility and stability.

Medical problems with cerebral palsy cover a wide range of ailments and areas of the body. Constant checkups are necessary to catch early signs of medical problems with cerebral palsy. If you notice any subtle changes in your child’s physical or mental state you should take note and discuss the issues with your child’s physician.

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