Cerebral Palsy is a condition that results from a neurological (brain) injury that may have occurred in the womb and it affects movement, posture, co-ordination and muscle control. An estimated 1 in 400 babies are born with this condition.
“Whilst the care of a child with Cerebral Palsy may involve significant time and financial input, I think perhaps the most important thing to understand is that this is not a progressive condition and those diagnosed can live long, happy and quality lives,” explains Dr Fysh, Chief Medical Officer at Orient EmbryoCare.
This is a condition that will vary significantly from case to case and not all cases are the really serious versions we inevitably envisage. Having said this, it is a chronic medical condition and will require long-term supportive care. What most cases do have in common is that the child will be diagnosed as part of a gradual process and it is unlikely that the diagnosis will be confirmed until around a year old.
Diagnosing Cerebral Palsy is a complex, multi-step process that takes some time. Often investigation is initially triggered by parental observations; reporting symptoms such as floppiness to their GP. From here a number of tests, observations and evaluations will be undertaken, alternative explanations will be systematically ruled out and finally a diagnosis made – most commonly between one and two years of age.
“The impact of diagnosis on the family can be devastating as they face a lifetime of care and there is no cure,” says Dr Fysh. “But physiotherapy can help a great deal, there is a significant amount of support available and experimental treatments are increasingly available. It does take some adjusting and will require significant time investment, which can be difficult, particularly when parents both need to work and/or there are already other children in the family. Alterations to the home, an appropriate vehicle, good quality wheelchair, can make a substantial difference to quality of life.”
The recognised symptoms are generally grouped under three main types, though some experience a combination of these:
Spastic - Around 80% of people with Cerebral Palsy experience spasticity, meaning the muscle tone is tight and stiff causing a decreased range of movement and causing pain and spasm. It is worth noting that in the early stages babies may actually appear floppy initially, and will develop the stiffness later.
Dyskinetic – also known as dystonic, athetoid or choreoathetoid cerebral palsy. This only occurs in about 15% of people with cerebral palsy, causing uncontrolled, involuntary, muscle contractions. This can make speech and maintaining an upright position very difficult.
Ataxic - defined as ‘an inability to activate the correct pattern of muscles during movement’, this specifically impacts balance, and perhaps spatial awareness. Only about 4% of people with cerebral palsy are diagnosed with this version.
There are a number of associated concerns with Cerebral Palsy, though, once again, their occurrence and severity will vary significantly between individuals.
Sufferers will often experience initial feeding difficulties, communication difficulties, drooling, sleep issues and concerns with toileting.
One in four children with Cerebral Palsy will have behavioural issues.
One third of children will suffer from epilepsy, whilst some may experience learning or cognitive difficulties, though this is not necessarily a side-effect of the condition; children with Cerebral Palsy are thought to cover the same range of intelligence as other children).
Finally hearing impairment effects around 8% of the children diagnosed.
Early diagnosis can really help as therapies can be introduced before the child develops full symptoms. Treatment will be regular and ongoing and is likely to include a combination of physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, medications, and perhaps surgery.
Researchers are still exploring the causes of this condition, but there are a number of common pre-determinates identified. It is worth pointing out that most are circumstantial and not something that the mother can actively avoid:
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