Cerebral palsy (CP) describes a group of conditions that impact movement and muscle coordination/control. It is caused by damage to the nervous system, which typically happens during pregnancy as the fetus is developing, before/during/shortly after birth or during the first three years of a child’s life. The damage impairs the brain’s ability to effectively control movement and posture. Cerebral palsy is not progressive and does not generally get worse with time. There is no cure for cerebral palsy although, in many cases, it can be effectively managed.
Because cerebral palsy is a group of disorders there is no one single cause. It can be present at birth (congenital cerebral palsy) or occur during the first few years of a child’s life (acquired cerebral palsy).
Congenital cerebral palsy is more common, although it may not be detected for months following birth. In most cases, the cause is much more difficult to determine. Scientists have, however, identified some specific events that happen during pregnancy or around the time of birth which may result in congenital cerebral palsy, including:
- German measles, rubella, cytomegalovirus or toxoplasmosis during pregnancy
- Placental and other maternal infections
- Rh incompatibility
- A severe shortage of oxygen to the brain during labour and/or delivery
- Stroke in the fetus or newborn baby
Some of the common causes of acquired cerebral palsy include:
- Head injury, often due to a car accident, a fall or child abuse
- Brain infections, including bacterial meningitis or viral encephalitis
The signs of cerebral palsy are usually apparent before a child reaches three years of age. It is often parents who first notice that their child is not reaching normal developmental milestones. Early indicators include:
- Your child is slow learning to roll over