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Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy

The symptoms of cerebral palsy are usually not noticeable at birth. Cerebral palsy is generally not known to be a hereditary condition, and therefore it cannot be tested for. Cerebral palsy diagnosis is usually made during the first 18 months and up to the first three years of a child’s life. In extreme cases, symptoms of cerebral palsy begin to show as early as three months.

As children develop during the first 18 months of life they progress through a predictable set of developmental milestones, such as learning to roll over, sit, crawl, smile, or walk. An infant with cerebral palsy will tend to develop these skills more slowly because of their motor impairments, showing symptoms of cerebral palsy. This delay in reaching the first milestones marks the first symptoms of cerebral palsy. Although some form of mental retardation is usually present with cerebral palsy, intellectual function may range from extremly bright to severe mental retardation.

Some common symptoms of cerebral palsy that may be noticed shortly after birth are problems sucking and swallowing, a weak or shrill cry, a very relaxed and floppy body or a very stiff body. Other symptoms of cerebral palsy occur when being held; some babies may arch their backs and extend their arms and legs.

Most children showing symptoms of cerebral palsy have some sort of abnormal muscle tone. Two types of abnormal muscle tone are hypotonia and hypertonia. With hypotonia, decreased muscle tone, muscles are flaccid and relaxed, or even floppy. With hypertonia, increased muscle tone, the baby and muscles are stiff and rigid and muscle contractions are common. This is also known as spasticity.

Another of these symptoms of cerebral palsy is developing handedness before the age of 18 months. This could indicate weakness or abnormal muscle tone on one side of the body, indicating cerebral palsy. Besides muscle tone, the persistence of “infantile” or “primitive” reflexes, which normally disappear 3-6 months after birth, could also be regarded as symptoms of cerebral palsy.

Additional symptoms of cerebral palsy in children are seizures and irregular breathing as well as hearing, visual, and speech abnormalities. Progressive joint contractures can also occur. A contracture is a fixed tightening of muscle, tendons, ligaments or skin that can prevent normal body movement and of the associated body part and cause permanent deformity.

Symptoms of cerebral palsy have a variety of range and some are not visible to the untrained eye. Proper diagnosis of cerebral palsy requires an experienced physician. Cerebral palsy diagnosis is not always easy, since variations in child development may account for delays in reaching milestones as well as ruling out visual or hearing impairment. Doctors must first carefully examine the mother and child’s medical history in order to determine if cerebral palsy is the cause for developmental problems.

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