Symptoms and treatment
Cerebral palsy affects around a half a million children in the United States and may be diagnosed immediately after birth, but is more commonly discovered during early childhood when the affected child fails to meet normal developmental milestones. Although cerebral palsy is often thought of as a single disease, it's actually a term used to describe a cluster of movement and muscle disorders that manifests immediately after birth or during early childhood.
A child diagnosed with cerebral palsy may present with a variety of movement related problems including muscle rigidity and spasticity as well as difficulty with balance and coordination. Although the cerebral palsy cause isn't completely known or understood, this disease can be successfully controlled, allowing many affected children the hope of leading relatively normal, productive lives.
There are actually four main types of cerebral palsy, with each type characterized by different effects on the muscle and on movement:
- The most common form of cerebral palsy is the spastic type where the muscles become very rigid making it difficult to perform fine, controlled movements. With this type of cerebral palsy, movements tend to be jerky and erratic.
- The second form, known as athetoid cerebral palsy, is where the affected child has slow, writhing movements that are difficult to control.
- With ataxic cerebral palsy, coordination and balance are altered so that movements are both poorly controlled and difficult to execute.
- Hypotonic cerebral palsy is a type of cerebral palsy characterized by weak, floppy muscles that lack tone.
A child with cerebral palsy can also have a combination of these types which is given the general term dystonic cerebral palsy.
Cerebral palsy symptoms can vary depending on the particular type of the disease. In addition to problems with movement and muscle control, children with cerebral palsy may have a variety of other physical manifestations including seizures, vision and hearing abnormalities, difficulties with learning and speech and mental retardation. Not all children with cerebral palsy symptoms are mentally retarded; a third have normal to above-average intelligence. Fortunately, cerebral palsy is not a progressive disease – meaning the symptoms won't get worse over time – though its symptoms can have a major impact on a child's ability to function in society.
Unfortunately, there's no cure for this disease, but there are ways to make it easier to live with. If a child with cerebral palsy has seizures, medication may be given to keep them under control. To treat the problems with movement and poor muscle tone, physical therapy can be invaluable. Supervised exercise under the watchful eye of a physical therapist is important for helping to reduce muscle stiffness and spasticity as well as preventing the affected muscles from becoming weaker.
In some cases where muscle spasticity is a prominent cerebral palsy symptom, prescription muscle relaxants may offer some relief. It may be necessary to fit a child with orthopedic aids such as a brace to keep the spine in alignment or equip them with a wheelchair to increase mobility in some cases. Nutritional counseling is another area that can benefit a child affected by cerebral palsy, since they may have trouble chewing and swallowing food in some cases.
Although some children with cerebral palsy are of normal or above-average intelligence, they may have difficulty communicating due to problems with tongue and mouth movements. This may require the aid of a speech therapist and the help of special education teachers to help train the child to better communicate with the rest of the world.
Cerebral Palsy News
If you keep up with cerebral palsy news, it's encouraging to see what victims of this disease are accomplishing. A man diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a child plans on climbing Mount Everest while another has become a successful comedian. These types of stories are becoming more and more common, which provides hope and inspiration to those affected by this disease. With a bit of help and inspiration from the medical community, these children are leading relatively normal lives and making their own special contributions to society.
By Kristie Leong
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