Cerebral palsy is a general term for a variety of disorders caused by damage to the brain. The damage occurs before or during birth or in the first few years of life. The brain damage may cause severe crippling, or the symptoms may be so mild that they hardly interfere with the patient’s activities. There are several types of cerebral palsy, and all involve lack of muscle control. Common effects of the disorder include a clumsy walk, lack of balance, shaking, jerky movements and unclear speech. In many patients, the brain damage also causes mental handicap, learning disability, seizures and problems in sight and hearing. About half of 1 percent of the people in the world have cerebral palsy.

In most cases, the causes of faulty growth of the brain that result in cerebral palsy cannot be determined. In some cases, however, brain damage may result from illness in the mother during pregnancy. For example, German measles can severely harm an unborn child, even though the mother may have had only mild symptoms or none at all during pregnancy. Cerebral palsy is rarely an inherited trait. 
Brain damage can also occur during the birth process, especially in premature births. In babies born after a normal term of pregnancy, brain damage may occur if there is a significant period of hypoxia (lack of oxygen), causing brain cells to die. 
After birth, a baby may develop cerebral palsy if disease or injury damages the brain. During the first year of life, infections and accidental head injuries are the most frequent causes of the condition.

There are four chief types of cerebral palsy: (1) ataxic, (2) athetoid, (3) hypotonic and (4) spastic. In the ataxic form, the victim’s voluntary movements are jerky, and a loss of balance is suffered. In the athetoid type, the person’s muscles move continually. These movements prevent or interfere greatly with voluntary actions. A person with hypotonic cerebral palsy appears limp. The person can move little or not at all because the muscles cannot cantract. Spastic cerebral palsy victims have stiff muscles and cannot move some body parts. A victim of cerebral palsy may have more than one muscle disorder. The person may be only slightly disabled or completely paralyzed.
Cerebral palsy does not worsen progressively but may appear to worsen if it is untreated. A child’s spastic (tight) muscles become fixed from lack of use. Some victims lose their ability to walk if they gain too much weight.

Treatment of cerebral palsy is aimed at preventing the condition from worsening and helping the child use his or her abilities to the best advantage. Each type of cerebral palsy requires different therapy. Each patient needs individual care.

Most victims of cerebral palsy can be helped by physiotherapy

If possible, the patient learns to maintain balance and to move about unaided. The patient may develop such self-help skills as dressing and toilet care. A child with cerebral palsy may face the task of conquering problems of speech, sight and hearing that could interfere with other learning therapy, glasses and hearing aids may correct some of these problems. The child can then learn to communicate in finding a suitable job. Doctors may prescribe drugs for cerebral palsy patients to relax muscles and to control their convulsions. Braces and other mechanical devices provide support and help the victim walk. In some cases, a surgical operation called selective posterior rhiztomy can reduce the rigidity of spastic muscles. In this operation, the surgeon cuts selected nerve fibers in the spinal cord. The future of cerebral palsy victims depends largely on the extent of their physical and mental abilities. Many can lead almost normal lives and can become happy, productive members of society.

Prevention of brain damage before, during, and soon after birth is the most important way of fighting cerebral palsy. Before becoming pregnant, a woman should be vaccinated against any disease that could harm her unborn baby. An expectant mother should only take drugs prescribed by her doctor. A woman under the age of eighteen and over forty has a greater chance than other woman to give birth to a premature baby. After birth, a baby can be protected from brain damage by careful handling, proper care and vaccination against childhood diseases.


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