What is CEREBRAL PALSY?
Cerebral Palsy or Spastic Paralysis is a general term that refers to a group of disorders that affect body movement, sense of balance and posture.
Causes of Cerebral Palsy
Spastic Paralysis originates in the womb, even before a child is born. It is caused due to a lack of oxygen supply to the fetus, which results in damage to the cerebrum, the main part of the human brain. As a result there is loss of nerve functions which can affect different parts of the body and senses.
Medications for Cerebral Palsy
The main medications used in the case of Cerebral Palsy are those employed to control occurrence of seizures and reduce abnormal movement and spasticity. These include:
- Dopaminergic drugs, such as Levodopa (Sinemet) and Trihexiphenidyl (Artane), which increase the production of the chemical dopamine in the brain, which in turn reduces abnormal movements and rigidity, a common feature of Cerebral Palsy.
- Muscle relaxants such as Baclofen (Lioresal) and Diazepam (Valium)
- Botulinum Toxin Type A (Botox), which causes a mild muscle paralysis and thus minimizes the occurrence of contractions.
- Anticolvulsants and Benzodiazepines which control the occurrence and intensity of seizures.
Prevention of Cerebral Palsy
It is often difficult to determine the exact cause of Cerebral Palsy. However taking adequate prenatal care can greatly reduce the chances of its occurrence. These steps include avoiding conceiving a child after the age of 40, avoiding consuming substances such as alcohol and cigarettes when pregnant, testing for Rh incompatibility and immunity against viruses such as German Measles before getting pregnant, strictly following routine vaccination regimens to prevent contraction of deadly viruses such as meningitis etc.
Risk Factors of Cerebral Palsy
The following can increase the chances of an infant developing Spastic Paralysis:
- If the mother is younger than 20 years or older than 40 years
- If the father is younger than 20 years
- If the child is born premature
- If the infant is one of a pair of twins, especially is one twin dies
- If the infant is of African-American ethnicity
- If the infant has a low birth weight
- If the mother is infected by a virus such as German Measles early in her pregnancy
Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy
Though the condition develops before birth, the symptoms of Spastic Paralysis may often not display themselves till the child is a few years old – i.e. until their nervous system begins to develop. Common signs are:
- A delay is normal infant development such as rolling over, reaching for things with one hand, crawling, walking etc.
- Continuance of infant behaviour or reflexes which usually begin to disappear when an infant is around 6 months old
- Abnormal muscle tone, difficult or stiff movements or physically visible abnormalities such as shorter limbs on one side of the body
- Seizures are another common sign of Spastic Paralysis
- Speech and swallowing problems
- Mental retardation
- Hearing or vision problems
Treatment for Cerebral Palsy
There is no cure for Spastic Paralysis. The treatment involves a regimen of therapy and certain medications. However each case differs from person to person, and as a result the therapy has to be customized based on each individual case. The most common type of therapy employed for Spastic Paralysis is physical therapy, to help with muscle movement, occupational therapy, social adjustment therapy etc. Many with Cerebral Palsy also require medical therapy, in order to handle seizures, digestive problems, breathing problems. The type of treatment is dependant on which part of the body the condition has affected.
In some cases of Spastic Paralysis, surgery may also be conducted, such as a dorsal rhizotomy procedure - which could help improve movements or allow the patient to sit, stand or walk by themselves - or implantation of a pump that allows a continuous supply of particular drugs that reduce spasticity.
Types of Cerebral Palsy
The 3 main types are Spastic Cerebral Palsy, which is displayed via stiff and restricted or very difficult movements, Athetoid Cerebral Palsy, in which case the person’s movements are involuntary and not able to be controlled and Ataxic Cerebral Palsy, in which case the person does not have a normal sense of balance and depth perception.
In some cases patients may display more than one type and this is known as Mixed Cerebral Palsy.