Introduction 

Cerebral palsy is the general term for a number of neurological conditions that affect movement and co-ordination.

Neurological conditions are caused by problems in the brain and nervous system.

Specifically, cerebral palsy is caused by a problem in the parts of the brain responsible for controlling muscles. The condition can occur if the brain develops abnormally or is damaged before, during or shortly after birth.

Causes of cerebral palsy include:

  • an infection caught by the mother during pregnancy
  • a difficult or premature birth
  • bleeding in the baby’s brain
  • changes (mutations) in the genes that affect the brain's development

Read more about the causes of cerebral palsy.

It is estimated that 1 in 400 people in the UK is affected by cerebral palsy.

Symptoms of cerebral palsy

The symptoms of cerebral palsy normally become apparent during the first three years of a child's life.

The main symptoms are:

  • muscle stiffness or floppiness
  • muscle weakness
  • random and uncontrolled body movements
  • balance and co-ordination problems

These symptoms can affect different areas of the body and vary in severity from person to person. Some people will only have minor problems, whereas others will be severely disabled.

Many people with cerebral palsy also have a number of associated problems, including repeated seizures or fits, drooling problems and swallowing difficulties. Some people with the condition may have communication and learning difficulties, although intelligence is often unaffected.

Read more about the symptoms of cerebral palsy.

When to seek medical advice

A child with cerebral palsy may be slower in achieving important developmental goals, such as learning to crawl, walk or speak.

You should see your GP if you are concerned about your child's development. If necessary, they can refer you to a paediatrician (a doctor who specialises in the treatment of children), who can help identify any problems.

Read more about diagnosing cerebral palsy.

How cerebral palsy is treated

There is no cure for cerebral palsy. However, there are numerous treatments available, which can treat many of its symptoms and help people with the condition to be as independent as possible.

These treatments include physiotherapy, occupational therapy and medication to relieve muscle stiffness and spasms. In some cases, surgery may also be needed.

Read more about treating cerebral palsy.

Outlook

Cerebral palsy is not a progressive condition. This means the original problem in the brain doesn't get worse with age, and life expectancy is usually unaffected.

However, the physical and emotional strain of living with a long-term condition such as cerebral palsy can put a great deal of stress on the body, which can cause further problems in later life.

Read more about the complications of cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy

About one in 400 children born alive has cerebral palsy. An expert explains the causes, symptoms and treatment

Media last reviewed: 30/04/2013

Next review due: 30/04/2015

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Advice for carers with home care, care homes, equipment and more to help you with caring

Page last reviewed: 27/03/2014

Next review due: 27/03/2016