What is Cerebral Palsy? | CDC (2023)

On This Page

  • Types of Cerebral Palsy
  • Early Signs
  • Screening and Diagnosis
  • Treatments and Intervention Services
  • Causes and Risk Factors
  • If You’re Concerned

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. CP is the most common motor disability in childhood. Cerebral means having to do with the brain. Palsy means weakness or problems with using the muscles. CP is caused by abnormal brain development or damage to the developing brain that affects a person’s ability to control his or her muscles.

The symptoms of CP vary from person to person. A person with severe CP might need to use special equipment to be able to walk, or might not be able to walk at all and might need lifelong care. A person with mild CP, on the other hand, might walk a little awkwardly, but might not need any special help. CP does not get worse over time, though the exact symptoms can change over a person’s lifetime.

All people with CP have problems with movement and posture. Many also have related conditions such as intellectual disability; seizures; problems with vision, hearing, or speech; changes in the spine (such as scoliosis); or joint problems (such as contractures).

What is Cerebral Palsy? | CDC (1)

Types of Cerebral Palsy

Doctors classify CP according to the main type of movement disorder involved. Depending on which areas of the brain are affected, one or more of the following movement disorders can occur:

  • Stiff muscles (spasticity)
  • Uncontrollable movements (dyskinesia)
  • Poor balance and coordination (ataxia)

There are four main types of CP:

Spastic Cerebral Palsy

The most common type of CP is spastic CP. Spastic CP affects about 80% of people with CP.

(Video) Cerebral palsy (CP) - causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment & pathology

People with spastic CP have increased muscle tone. This means their muscles are stiff and, as a result, their movements can be awkward. Spastic CP usually is described by what parts of the body are affected:

  • Spastic diplegia/diparesis―In this type of CP, muscle stiffness is mainly in the legs, with the arms less affected or not affected at all. People with spastic diplegia might have difficulty walking because tight hip and leg muscles cause their legs to pull together, turn inward, and cross at the knees (also known as scissoring).
  • Spastic hemiplegia/hemiparesis―This type of CP affects only one side of a person’s body; usually the arm is more affected than the leg.
  • Spastic quadriplegia/quadriparesis―Spastic quadriplegia is the most severe form of spastic CP and affects all four limbs, the trunk, and the face. People with spastic quadriparesis usually cannot walk and often have other developmental disabilities such as intellectual disability; seizures; or problems with vision, hearing, or speech.

Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy (also includes athetoid, choreoathetoid, and dystonic cerebral palsies)

People with dyskinetic CP have problems controlling the movement of their hands, arms, feet, and legs, making it difficult to sit and walk. The movements are uncontrollable and can be slow and writhing or rapid and jerky. Sometimes the face and tongue are affected and the person has a hard time sucking, swallowing, and talking. A person with dyskinetic CP has muscle tone that can change (varying from too tight to too loose) not only from day to day, but even during a single day.

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

People with ataxic CP have problems with balance and coordination. They might be unsteady when they walk. They might have a hard time with quick movements or movements that need a lot of control, like writing. They might have a hard time controlling their hands or arms when they reach for something.

Mixed Cerebral Palsy

Some people have symptoms of more than one type of CP. The most common type of mixed CP is spastic-dyskinetic CP.

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Early Signs

The signs of CP vary greatly because there are many different types and levels of disability. The main sign that a child might have CP is a delay reaching motor or movement milestones (such as rolling over, sitting, standing, or walking). Following are some other signs of possible CP. It is important to note that some children without CP also might have some of these signs.

In a Baby Younger Than 6 Months of Age

  • His head lags when you pick him up while he’s lying on his back
  • He feels stiff
  • He feels floppy
  • When held cradled in your arms, he seems to overextend his back and neck, constantly acting as if he is pushing away from you
  • When you pick him up, his legs get stiff and they cross or scissor

What is Cerebral Palsy? | CDC (2)

In a Baby Older Than 6 Months of Age

  • She doesn’t roll over in either direction
  • She cannot bring her hands together
  • She has difficulty bringing her hands to her mouth
  • She reaches out with only one hand while keeping the other fisted

In a Baby Older Than 10 Months of Age

  • He crawls in a lopsided manner, pushing off with one hand and leg while dragging the opposite hand and leg
  • He scoots around on his buttocks or hops on his knees, but does not crawl on all fours

Tell your child’s doctor or nurse if you notice any of these signs. Learn more about developmental milestones that children should reach from birth to 5 years of age

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Screening and Diagnosis

Diagnosing CP at an early age is important to the well-being of children and their families. Diagnosing CP can take several steps:

(Video) Cerebral Palsy - (DETAILED) Overview

Developmental Monitoring

Developmental monitoring (also called surveillance) means tracking a child’s growth and development over time. If any concerns about the child’s development are raised during monitoring, then a developmental screening test should be given as soon as possible.

Developmental Screening

During developmental screening a short test is given to see if the child has specific developmental delays, such as motor or movement delays. If the results of the screening test are cause for concern, then the doctor will make referrals for developmental and medical evaluations.

Developmental and Medical Evaluations

The goal of a developmental evaluation is to diagnose the specific type of disorder that affects a child.

Learn more about screening and diagnosis

Treatments and Intervention Services

There is no cure for CP, but treatment can improve the lives of those who have the condition. It is important to begin a treatment program as early as possible.

After a CP diagnosis is made, a team of health professionals works with the child and family to develop a plan to help the child reach his or her full potential. Common treatments include medicines; surgery; braces; and physical, occupational, and speech therapy. No single treatment is the best one for all children with CP. Before deciding on a treatment plan, it is important to talk with the child’s doctor to understand all the risks and benefits.

Visit the NINDS Cerebral Palsy Information Page to learn more about treatments for CP external icon

Intervention Services

Both early intervention and school-aged services are available through our nation’s special education law—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Part C of IDEA deals with early intervention services (birth through 36 months of age), while Part B applies to services for school-aged children (3 through 21 years of age). Even if your child has not been diagnosed with CP, he or she may be eligible for IDEA services.

Learn more about IDEA Services

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(Video) What is Cerebral Palsy?

Causes and Risk Factors

CP is caused by abnormal development of the brain or damage to the developing brain that affects a child’s ability to control his or her muscles. There are several possible causes of the abnormal development or damage. People used to think that CP was mainly caused by lack of oxygen during the birth process. Now, scientists think that this causes only a small number of CP cases.

The abnormal development of the brain or damage that leads to CP can happen before birth, during birth, within a month after birth, or during the first years of a child’s life, while the brain is still developing. CP related to abnormal development of the brain or damage that occurred before or during birth is calledcongenitalCP. The majority of CP (85%–90%) is congenital. In many cases, the specific cause is not known. A small percentage of CP is caused by abnormal development of the brain or damage that occurs more than 28 days after birth. This is calledacquiredCP, and usually is associated with an infection (such as meningitis) or head injury.

Learn more about causes and risk factors for CP

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If You’re Concerned

If you think your child is not meeting movement milestones or might have CP, contact your doctor or nurse and share your concerns.

If you or your doctor is still concerned, ask for a referral to a specialist who can do a more in-depth evaluation of your child and assist in making a diagnosis.

At the same time, call your state’s public early childhood system to request a free evaluation to find out if your child qualifies for intervention services. This is sometimes called a Child Find evaluation. You do not need to wait for a doctor’s referral or a medical diagnosis to make this call.

Where to call for a free evaluation from the state depends on your child’s age:

  • If your child is not yet 3 years old, contact your local early intervention system.
    You can find the right contact information for your state by calling the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA) at 919-962-2001 or visit the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Centerexternal icon.
  • If your child is 3 years of age or older, contact your local public school system.
    Even if your child is not yet old enough for kindergarten or enrolled in a public school, call your local elementary school or board of education and ask to speak with someone who can help you have your child evaluated.
    If you’re not sure who to contact, you can call the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA) at 919-962-2001 or visit the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Centerexternal icon.

Learn more about early intervention

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(Video) Cerebral palsy | NHS

References

American Academy of Pediatrics. Caring for your baby and young child: Birth to age five. 5th ed. Shelov SP, editor. Elk Grove Village (IL): Bantam Books; 2009.

American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children / Cerebral Palsy
http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/developmental-disabilities/pages/Cerebral-Palsy.aspxexternal icon

American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
https://aaidd.org/homeexternal icon

Honeycutt A, Dunlap L, Chen H, Homsi G. Economic costs associated with mental retardation, cerebral palsy, hearing loss, and vision impairment: United States, 2003. MMWR Morb mital Wkly Rep. 2004;53(3): 57-59.
https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5303a4.htm

Identifying Infants and Young Children With Developmental Disorders in the Medical Home: An Algorithm for Developmental Surveillance and Screening. Council on Children With Disabilities, Section on Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics, Bright Futures Steering Committee, Medical Home Initiatives for Children With Special Needs Project Advisory Committee. Pediatrics, July 2006.
http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/118/1/405.full.pdf pdf icon[PDF – 930 KB]external icon

March of Dimes. Cerebral Palsy.
http://www.marchofdimes.org/baby/cerebral-palsy.aspxexternal icon

My Child Without Limits
http://www.mychildwithoutlimits.org/?page=homeexternal icon

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Cerebral Palsy: Hope Through Research. NIH Publication Number 10-159, updated 5/6/10.
https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Hope-Through-Research/Cerebral-Palsy-Hope-Through-Researchexternal icon

Pellegrino, Louis. Cerebral Palsy, in Batshaw ML, Pellegrino L, Roizen NJ (eds.), Children with Disabilities, 6th Edition, Baltimore, MD, Paul H Brookes Publishing Company, 2007, pp 387-408.

UCP
http://www.ucp.orgexternal icon

FAQs

What's the meaning of cerebral palsy? ›

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that affect a person's ability to move and maintain balance and posture. CP is the most common motor disability in childhood. Cerebral means having to do with the brain. Palsy means weakness or problems with using the muscles.

What is cerebral palsy PDF? ›

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a term used to describe a neurological condition affecting body movement and muscle co-ordination. CP is considered a non-progressive but not unchanging condition of movement and/or posture, due to an injury to the developing brain.

What causes cerebral palsy? ›

Cerebral palsy is caused by abnormal brain development or damage to the developing brain. This usually happens before a child is born, but it can occur at birth or in early infancy. In many cases, the cause isn't known.

Who has cerebral palsy? ›

CP is the most common motor disability of childhood. About 1 in 345 children has been identified with CP according to estimates from CDC's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. CP is more common among boys than girls, and more common among black children than among white children.

What is palsy called today? ›

Bell's palsy is also known as acute peripheral facial palsy of unknown cause. It can occur at any age. The exact cause is unknown. Experts think it's caused by swelling and inflammation of the nerve that controls the muscles on one side of the face.

Is cerebral palsy life long? ›

Generally, children born with cerebral palsy can expect to live between 30 and 70 years on average. Those with the longest life expectancies usually have more mobility, better medical care and adaptive equipment and greater autonomy and independence. There is no cure for cerebral palsy and the condition lasts for life.

How does cerebral palsy affect the brain? ›

Cerebral palsy affects the motor area of the brain's outer layer (called the cerebral cortex), the part of the brain that directs muscle movement. In some cases, the cerebral motor cortex hasn't developed normally during fetal growth.

What is the symptoms of cerebral palsy? ›

Possible signs in a child include:
  • delays in reaching development milestones – for example, not sitting by 8 months or not walking by 18 months.
  • seeming too stiff or too floppy (hypotonia)
  • weak arms or legs.
  • fidgety, jerky or clumsy movements.
  • random, uncontrolled movements.
  • muscle spasms.
  • shaking hands (tremors)

Who is at risk for cerebral palsy? ›

Low birthweight―Children who weigh less than 5 1/2 pounds (2,500 grams) at birth, and especially those who weigh less than 3 pounds, 5 ounces (1,500 grams) have a greater chance of having CP.

How is cerebral palsy treated? ›

There is no cure for CP, but a child's quality of life can improve with: treatment that may involve medicine or surgery. therapy, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. special equipment to help kids get around and communicate with others.

How do you prevent cerebral palsy? ›

Preventing cerebral palsy after birth
  1. Making sure your child is vaccinated for all common infant infections.
  2. Using the correct car seat for your child's weight and height.
  3. Using a crib with bed rail.
  4. Never leaving your child on high countertops or surfaces unattended.
  5. Never shake a baby.
6 Apr 2022

How do you classify cerebral palsy? ›

The classification of cerebral palsy depends on the type of movement issues and the affected body parts. There are five major types of cerebral palsy: spastic, ataxic, athetoid, hypotonic, and mixed type.

How is cerebral palsy diagnosed? ›

Specialists might suggest brain imaging tests, such as x-ray computed tomography (CT scan) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An electroencephalogram (EEG), genetic testing, or metabolic testing, or a combination of these, also might be done. CP generally is diagnosed during the first or second year after birth.

Can cerebral palsy be cured? ›

There is no cure for cerebral palsy. However, there are many treatments options that may help improve your child's daily functioning. Selecting care will depend on his or her specific symptoms and needs, and needs may change over time. Early intervention can improve outcomes.

Does cerebral palsy affect memory? ›

Revealed so far is the fact that CP children were at risk for specific executive function and working memory deficits that, when present, increase the risk for arithmetic difficulties in these children. That is the ability to understand process numbers and words correctly.

Does cerebral palsy affect speech? ›

Speech disorders are common among those with cerebral palsy. In fact, a 2012 study conducted by Swedish researchers found that speech problems affect more than half of all children with cerebral palsy. Some children with cerebral palsy have difficulty controlling the muscles in their face, throat, neck and head.

When does cerebral palsy occur? ›

The signs of cerebral palsy usually appear in the first few months of life, but many children are not diagnosed until age 2 or later. In general, early signs of cerebral palsy include1,2: Developmental delays. The child is slow to reach milestones such as rolling over, sitting, crawling, and walking.

Is palsy painful? ›

It begins suddenly and worsens over 48 hours. This condition results from damage to the facial nerve (the 7th cranial nerve). Pain and discomfort usually occur on one side of the face or head.

Is cerebral palsy genetic? ›

In an article published in Nature Genetics, researchers confirm that about 14% of all cases of cerebral palsy, a disabling brain disorder for which there are no cures, may be linked to a patient's genes and suggest that many of those genes control how brain circuits become wired during early development.

What type of sickness is palsy? ›

Bell's palsy temporarily weakens or paralyzes facial muscles. A pinched facial nerve causes this paralysis, or palsy. People with this type of facial nerve palsy develop a droopy appearance on one — or sometimes both — sides of the face. The condition isn't serious and often resolves in a few months without treatment.

How serious is cerebral palsy? ›

most children live into adult life and some can live for many decades. the condition may limit your child's activities and independence, although many people go on to lead full, independent lives.

Is cerebral palsy painful? ›

Some children may experience little to no pain, whereas others may require medical treatment to manage painful symptoms. According to a 2020 study from BMC Neurology involving 3,545 children and adolescents with cerebral palsy, 42.5% of patients reported experiencing some type of pain.

Does cerebral palsy get worse with age? ›

Cerebral palsy is a “non-progressive” disorder. This means that as children get older, their CP will not worsen. While an individual's cerebral palsy will not decline as they get older, there are a few things that can impact their overall health and wellness.

How does cerebral palsy affect daily life? ›

Cerebral palsy affects a person's posture, balance, and ability to move. It can also affect someone's abilities to communicate, eat, and sleep. The parts of the body affected by cerebral palsy, the level of severity and combination of symptoms can differ for each person.

Can you live a normal life with cerebral palsy? ›

Fortunately, CP is not thought to impact life expectancy. Adults with CP have a life expectancy comparable to that of the general population. While a cerebral palsy diagnosis may come as a surprise to parents, this condition can be managed with proper treatment and continued care.

What is Level 4 cerebral palsy? ›

A person with level 4 cerebral palsy can walk with the use of assistive devices. They're able to move independently in a wheelchair, and they need some support when sitting.

Is there a test for cerebral palsy? ›

There is no test that confirms or rules out Cerebral Palsy. In severe cases, the child may be diagnosed soon after birth, but for the majority, diagnosis can be made in the first two years. For those with milder symptoms, a diagnosis may not be rendered until the brain is fully developed at three to five years of age.

Is cerebral palsy a learning disability? ›

Cerebral palsy and learning disability

Cerebral palsy is not a learning disability, but some people with cerebral palsy might have a learning disability.

How many people are born with cerebral palsy? ›

Around 764,000 people in the U.S. (including children and adults) have at least one symptom of cerebral palsy. Around 10,000 babies are born each year with cerebral palsy. Between 1,200 t0 1,500 school-aged children are diagnosed with cerebral palsy each year.

What is the best medicine for cerebral palsy? ›

Common medications used to treat cerebral palsy
  • Anti-inflammatories.
  • Muscle relaxants.
  • Benzodiazepines.
  • Nerve blocks.
  • Botox.
  • Baclofen.
  • Anticholinergics.
  • Stool Softeners.
7 Apr 2022

Is there surgery for cerebral palsy? ›

Surgery is one of the many options available to help children with cerebral palsy improve mobility, posture and ensure healthy growth. Most doctors recommend physical therapy and medication before surgery. Surgery can correct or improve movement and alignment in the legs, ankles, feet, hips, wrists and arms.

How does cerebral palsy affect a person? ›

All people with cerebral palsy have problems with movement and posture, and some also have some level of intellectual disability, seizures, and abnormal physical sensations or perceptions, as well as other medical disorders. People with CP also may have impaired vision or hearing, and language, and speech problems.

Can a child with cerebral palsy live a normal life? ›

Most children with Cerebral Palsy can live long, happy, quality lives. Admittedly, their care may involve more visits to the doctor, require therapy or medications, and perhaps surgery. They may be evaluated for early intervention, special education services and assistive technology.

What is the symptoms of cerebral palsy? ›

Possible signs in a child include:
  • delays in reaching development milestones – for example, not sitting by 8 months or not walking by 18 months.
  • seeming too stiff or too floppy (hypotonia)
  • weak arms or legs.
  • fidgety, jerky or clumsy movements.
  • random, uncontrolled movements.
  • muscle spasms.
  • shaking hands (tremors)

How can you tell if a baby has cerebral palsy? ›

Signs and Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy
  1. a baby's inability to lift his or her own head by the appropriate age of development.
  2. poor muscle tone in a baby's limbs, resulting in heavy or floppy arms and legs.
  3. stiffness in a baby's joints or muscles, or uncontrolled movement in a baby's arms or legs.

How is cerebral palsy treated? ›

There is no cure for CP, but a child's quality of life can improve with: treatment that may involve medicine or surgery. therapy, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. special equipment to help kids get around and communicate with others.

What happens in the brain with cerebral palsy? ›

CP affects the cerebral motor cortex. This is the part of the brain that directs muscle movement. In fact, the first part of the name, cerebral, means having to do with the brain. The second part, palsy, means weakness or problems with using the muscles.

What is life like with cerebral palsy? ›

Many people with cerebral palsy experience issues related to feeding, nutrition and digestive health. This is due to the way that CP can affect various groups of muscles and nerves – including the muscles in the face. Common secondary conditions reported in people with cerebral palsy include: Oral-motor dysfunction.

How long do cerebral palsy live? ›

Generally, children born with cerebral palsy can expect to live between 30 and 70 years on average. Those with the longest life expectancies usually have more mobility, better medical care and adaptive equipment and greater autonomy and independence. There is no cure for cerebral palsy and the condition lasts for life.

Who is most at risk for cerebral palsy? ›

Low birthweight―Children who weigh less than 5 1/2 pounds (2,500 grams) at birth, and especially those who weigh less than 3 pounds, 5 ounces (1,500 grams) have a greater chance of having CP.

Is cerebral palsy painful? ›

Some children may experience little to no pain, whereas others may require medical treatment to manage painful symptoms. According to a 2020 study from BMC Neurology involving 3,545 children and adolescents with cerebral palsy, 42.5% of patients reported experiencing some type of pain.

Can cerebral palsy be cured? ›

There is no cure for cerebral palsy. However, there are many treatments options that may help improve your child's daily functioning. Selecting care will depend on his or her specific symptoms and needs, and needs may change over time. Early intervention can improve outcomes.

What type of disability is cerebral palsy? ›

Cerebral palsy is a group of neurological disorders affecting motor and developmental skills. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 345 children in the United States have been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy caused by medical malpractice is often preventable.

How is cerebral palsy prevented? ›

Preventing cerebral palsy after birth

Making sure your child is vaccinated for all common infant infections. Using the correct car seat for your child's weight and height. Using a crib with bed rail. Never leaving your child on high countertops or surfaces unattended.

How do they test for cerebral palsy? ›

Specialists might suggest brain imaging tests, such as x-ray computed tomography (CT scan) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An electroencephalogram (EEG), genetic testing, or metabolic testing, or a combination of these, also might be done. CP generally is diagnosed during the first or second year after birth.

Can people with cerebral palsy talk? ›

Some people with cerebral palsy may not be able to produce any sounds, others may be able to produce sounds but have difficulty controlling their movement enough to produce speech that is clear and understood by others. 1 in 4 people with cerebral palsy cannot talk.

Does cerebral palsy show on MRI? ›

Yes, an MRI can help medical professionals diagnose Cerebral Palsy. Cerebral Palsy is often believed to be caused by injuries to the brain at or near childbirth. Oxygen deprivation, known as birth asphyxia or hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), is thought to cause brain damage that results in Cerebral Palsy.

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1. Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy | Gillette Children's
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2. Cerebral Palsy Experience Journal - Stella | Boston Children's Hospital
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3. Spastic Cerebral Palsy Surgical and Rehabilitation Treatment | Journee’s Story
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4. Emily's Cerebral Palsy Story at Gillette Children's
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5. Caring for a Child with Cerebral Palsy | Gillette Children's
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6. Brandon's Cerebral Palsy Journey at Gillette Children's
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