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Cerebral Palsy

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Sep 3, 2023.

What is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a disorder of movement, balance, and coordination. CP is caused by problems with how your child's brain formed, or injury to the brain during pregnancy, birth, or early childhood. It is important to get help as early as possible to improve your child's quality of life.

What are the early signs of CP?

Your child's signs may be mild to severe, depending on the affected area of the brain. Signs may include:

  • Stiff muscles or balance problems
  • Movement that he or she cannot control
  • Scooting on his or her buttocks or hopping on his or her knees instead of crawling
  • Eating or swallowing problems
  • Behavior problems, such as no eye contact or inability to be calmed
  • Seizures

How may CP affect my child's health?

Your child may have physical or mental problems, depending on how severe his or her CP is. He or she may be at an increased risk for infections or malnutrition. He or she may be delayed in his or her milestones, such as sitting up, rolling over, crawling, or walking. He or she may also have muscle spasms and bone problems that cause pain. Hearing, vision, or learning problems or seizures may also occur.

How is CP diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will examine your child, and check his or her eyes, growth, and development. He or she will also ask questions about your pregnancy and your child's birth. Your child may also receive the following:

  • Imaging studies such as a CT scan or an MRI are used to check for brain injury. Your child may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. You and your child should not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has any metal in or on his or her body.

How is CP treated?

There is no cure for CP, but your child may benefit from early treatment. Your child may need any of the following:

  • Medicines are used to decrease muscle spasms, seizures, and movements that your child cannot control.
  • Therapy may help your child increase movement and strength, and reduce pain. This may include physical, occupational, or speech therapy, or help from bone and nerve specialists. Therapy will also provide ways for you to care for your child, and encourage him or her to be as social and independent as possible.
  • Surgery may be needed to relieve muscle tension, improve movement, and prevent further muscle and bone problems.

How can I help my child reach his or her physical and mental potential?

  • Proper nutrition will help keep your child healthy. Specialists may also help your child with swallowing or feeding problems so he or she can get the nutrients he or she needs.
  • Frequent checkups with your child's healthcare provider will be needed to monitor your child's growth, development, and general health. This will help find early signs or symptoms of CP. Your child will need regular physical, hearing, and eye exams.
  • Support devices such as splints, braces, or a wheelchair may be needed to help your child move around.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • Your child has a seizure.
  • Your child has sudden trouble breathing.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child is not able to eat or drink.
  • Your child is restless or upset as if he or she is in pain, and he or she does not improve with medicine.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Learn more about Cerebral Palsy

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Symptoms and treatments

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.