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What Is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of neurological disorders that affect movement, posture, and balance. CP is the most common cause of childhood motor disabilities. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about one in 323 children in the United States is affected.
Cerebral palsy is caused by abnormal brain development or damage to the brain while it is developing. Cerebral palsy symptoms vary significantly depending on the person. While it doesn’t worsen over time, symptoms may change throughout a person’s lifetime.
Cerebral palsy symptoms vary in severity and may include:
- Abnormal gait
- Impaired motor skills
- Muscle weakness and/or spasticity
- Problems with movement and posture
Almost 40% of cerebral palsy patients need help walking. Many patients also experience seizures; vision, hearing, or speech problems; and intellectual disabilities.
Since the condition is classified by the specific movement issues and affected body parts, symptoms vary by types of cerebral palsy.
Spastic Cerebral Palsy
Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type, affecting about 80% of CP patients. Muscle spasticity — abnormal tightness caused by contracture — is likely to occur. Because of this, people with spastic CP have increased muscle tone that causes stiff muscles and awkward movements.
There are several types of spastic cerebral palsy based on which body parts are affected:
- Spastic diplegia/diparesis mainly affects the legs and may cause scissoring at the knees.
- Spastic hemiplegia/hemiparesis affects one side of the body and is usually more present in the arms.
- Spastic quadriplegia/quadriparesis is the most severe type because it affects both arms and legs, the face, and the trunk.
Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy
Dyskinetic cerebral palsy also includes athetoid, choreoathetoid, and dystonic types. This type of CP affects control of the arms, hands, legs, and feet, making sitting and walking difficult.
Dyskinetic CP patients usually have uncontrollable movements. They may also have problems talking, swallowing, and sucking. Muscle tone may become too loose or too tight, going back and forth as frequently as several times per day.
Ataxic Cerebral Palsy
Ataxic cerebral palsy patients have balance and coordination issues, causing instability when they walk. Quick movements and movements that require careful control of hands — such as writing — may also be challenging.
Mixed Cerebral Palsy
Some cerebral palsy patients have more than one type, which is known as mixed CP. When this occurs, it is most common for people to have spastic-dyskinetic CP.
How Do Babies Get Cerebral Palsy?
Babies can develop cerebral palsy in several ways. Although it was once believed that cerebral palsy is caused by a lack of oxygen during delivery, this is now thought to be true in only a small number of cases.
Brain damage that causes CP can happen before, during, or after a baby is born. This includes during the first years of life while the brain develops.
When brain damage happens before birth, it’s called congenital cerebral palsy. This occurs in 85-90% of cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Often, the specific causes of cerebral palsy are not known but could be due to:
- Assisted reproductive technology (ART) infertility treatments
- Birth complications, such as head injuries caused by forceps used during delivery
- Infections, such as meningitis
- Jaundice and kernicterus
- Low birthweight
- Medical conditions of the mother
- Multiple births, such as twins or triplets
- Premature birth
Tragically, many cerebral palsy cases are caused by mistakes made by negligent healthcare professionals. This usually means that cerebral palsy could have been prevented, making it medical malpractice.
In these instances, financial compensation may be available for parents. A cerebral palsy lawsuit can recover the money they need to provide the highest quality of care for their child.
Is Cerebral Palsy Genetic?
According to the NIH, cerebral palsy is genetic in 14% of patients. In these cases, it is believed that genes are what control how the brain develops.
However, in most cases, cerebral palsy is not genetic but caused by a birth or brain injury. When a birth injury is to blame, families may qualify for financial compensation by pursuing legal action.
Money from a CP lawsuit can help families provide lifelong care, including the costs of:
- Assistive devices
- Car modifications
- Doctor’s appointments
- Home modifications
- Specialized care
- Treatment for your child
A cerebral palsy lawsuit can also obtain justice for your child’s injury. You can hold careless medical professionals responsible for causing lifelong harm to innocent families by suing. This may help prevent other families from going through the same tragedy.
What Are the Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy?
The signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy vary greatly since there are many different types of CP, which range in severity from person to person. Additionally, CP symptoms are different depending on the age of the child.
- Floppiness in the body
- Head falling back when picked up
- Legs that cross or scissor
- Muscle stiffness
- Stretching out the back and neck when picked up
In babies older than 6 months, signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy include not rolling over, difficulty bringing hands together, and using only one hand with the other fisted.
As infants get older, CP symptoms may develop, such as lopsided crawling, scooting on the buttocks or knees, and dragging one side of the body when moving around. Since cerebral palsy affects movement, jerky or involuntary movements are common.
If you notice any signs or symptoms of cerebral palsy, it is essential to tell your child’s doctor.
How Do Doctors Diagnose Cerebral Palsy?
Diagnosing cerebral palsy generally happens when a child is 18 months or older. This is because the signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy aren’t always immediately apparent.
There are a few ways doctors diagnose cerebral palsy, a process that usually requires several steps.
Developmental Monitoring and Tests
Developmental monitoring involves tracking a child’s physical and mental development over time. In addition to asking parents if they have any concerns about their child’s development, doctors will also observe how the child moves during exams. This type of monitoring uses developmental milestones to uncover disabilities.
According to the NIH, the following are standard measures in diagnosing CP:
- Balance and coordination
- Growth and development
- Muscle control
- Muscle tone
Doctors can administer screening tests to detect developmental delays during regular office visits.
Since many children with cerebral palsy also have intellectual disabilities; seizures; or vision, hearing, or speech problems; monitoring for these disorders is also common.
If your child’s doctor finds any signs or symptoms of cerebral palsy, they may decide to use imaging tests as a next step to look for damage to the brain.
Diagnostic scanning for cerebral palsy may include:
- Computed tomography (CT)
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Electroencephalogram (EEG)
If signs of cerebral palsy are detected, the doctor may then refer your child to a specialist such as a pediatric neurologist, developmental pediatrician, or ophthalmologist experienced in children’s health.
Specialists can help with a more accurate diagnosis, leading to a treatment plan tailored to your child’s specific case.
Can Cerebral Palsy Be Cured?
Unfortunately no, cerebral palsy cannot be cured. However, you can do things to help your child manage their condition. In fact, treatment can often improve your child’s prognosis. This is especially true when there is early intervention.
Some ways to manage cerebral palsy are:
- Communication aids, such as voice synthesizers
- Occupational therapy
- Ongoing care for incontinence, drooling, and other bodily impairments
- Orthotic devices, such as braces to help with scoliosis or bone deformities
- Physical therapy
- Rolling walkers
- Speech therapy
Additionally, helpful medications may control seizures, ease pain, and relax muscle spasms. For some cerebral palsy patients, surgery may be an option to correct abnormalities or release tightened muscles.
Can You Sue for Cerebral Palsy?
Parents of children with cerebral palsy may be able to file a legal claim against doctors and other medical professionals.
Since lifetime care for children born with CP can cost more than $1 million, in many cases the only realistic way for families to cover these expenses is by filing a lawsuit.
In past CP lawsuits, families have been awarded:
- $30.5 million jury award in Massachusetts
- $10 million settlement in Tennessee
- $1.25 million settlement in Florida
It is important to note that most doctors and hospitals would rather settle a cerebral palsy lawsuit out of court because it keeps them out of the news. CP settlements also avoid lengthy and expensive court cases.
In cerebral palsy settlements, families can usually get the critical funds they need in a shorter amount of time.
How Do I Find a Cerebral Palsy Lawyer?
If you would like to speak with a cerebral palsy lawyer, we can help. We can connect you with cerebral palsy attorneys who have:
- Access to a network of top doctors and experts
- Decades of experience
- Billions of dollars recovered
The cerebral palsy lawyers in our network don’t charge upfront or out-of-pocket fees – they only get paid if they successfully resolve your case.
Caring for a child with cerebral palsy can be financially devastating, but you don’t have to face it alone. If you believe your child’s CP was caused by medical negligence, get a free case review to find out if you are eligible for compensation.