Cerebral Palsy Frequently Asked Questions

NewbornBelow are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions we get about cerebral palsy.

What Is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is not actually a single disorder, but rather an umbrella term for a group disabilities in which the brain is not capable of controlling and directing muscle movement in certain parts of the body. In a normal person, the brain functions as a control center for body movement. When someone wants to walk, write, talk or move their body in any way their brain accomplishes this by sending impulse signals to the appropriate muscles involved in the movement. In a person with cerebral palsy, these impulse signals from the brain become scrambled or distorted. The muscles in the body end up getting incomplete or conflicting impulse signals from the brain and they freeze up or move very abnormally.

What Causes Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a disorder in which the brain is not able to exercise normal control over the movement of the body. Cerebral palsy is caused by injury to the cells in the cerebral cortex area of the brain during early developmental stages. The timing of the brain injury is critical. To cause cerebral palsy, the damage to the brain must occur during pregnancy; childbirth or immediately after childbirth. After a child is 1 month old it is highly unusual for injury to the brain to result in cerebral palsy. The injury to the baby's brain can be triggered by several different occurrences including:

  • Oxygen Deprivation: the brain of a fetus or full-term baby requires a constant, uninterrupted supply of oxygen to maintain itself. A number of complications during pregnancy (e.g., maternal infection, membrane rupture, umbilical cord problems) can interrupt the delivery of oxygen to the baby. Complications during labor and delivery can also leave the baby without oxygen. When deprived of oxygen cells in the brain will begin to decay and die after a short period of time.
  • Developmental Abnormalities: cerebral palsy can also result when the brain does not develop normally during pregnancy. Abnormal brain development can be caused by genetic disorders or disruptive events during pregnancy such as infection, fever, or trauma.
  • Childbirth Trauma: cerebral palsy is frequently caused by trauma during labor and delivery. External trauma to the baby's head from the use of birth assistance tools such as obstetrical forceps or vacuum extractors can damage the brain. Complications during delivery that cause the baby to become stuck and deprived of oxygen are also common causes of brain damage resulting in cerebral palsy.
Is Cerebral Palsy a Genetic Disorder?

No. Cerebral palsy is a not a genetic disorder that parents pass on to their children. Rather cerebral palsy is the result of an injury to a baby's developing brain. The injury to the brain is the result of an event that occurs during pregnancy or childbirth. It is not triggered by the parent's DNA.

What Are the Primary Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a diverse set of disorders with various potential symptoms. However, the most noticeable symptom of cerebral palsy is abnormal body movement and posture. There are several different subtypes of cerebral palsy each of which comes with its own unique set of symptoms and affects different parts of the body. Some degree of physical abnormality will typically be noticeable in a child with cerebral palsy.

Does Cerebral Palsy Get Worse Over Time?

No. Cerebral palsy is not considered a progressive disorder which means that it will not continue to get worse over time. Cerebral palsy is the result of damage to the brain of a baby during pregnancy or childbirth. Once the brain damage occurs it does not spread or otherwise worsen. In fact, with effective therapy and treatment, the symptoms of cerebral palsy can be often be reduced over time.

Can Children Die From Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy itself is not a potentially life-threatening disorder. It is caused by brain damage which impairs the person's ability to control the movement of the muscles in their body. Once the damage to the brain occurs it does not get worse or spread. However, with very severe cases of cerebral palsy a child may suffer from secondary symptoms or conditions that can be potentially fatal. For example, some children with CP have difficulty chewing and swallowing which leaves them for fatal choking accidents.

Is There a Cure for Cerebral Palsy?

Sadly there is currently no "cure" to fix children with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is caused by injury to the brain during its developmental stages. In other parts of the body, injuries can be healed by cell regeneration. Unlike other parts of the body, once cells within the brain decay and die they can never regenerate. Injuries to the brain are therefore permanent. There are, however, a variety of highly effective treatment options for cerebral palsy.