Cerebral Palsy FAQs

Fact-Checked and Medically Reviewed by:
Katie Lavender, RN Registered Nurse
Quick Answer

You may have many questions when it comes to cerebral palsy, such as why and how it occurs. Get quick answers to your questions along with where to go for more information on each subject. You don’t have to stay in the dark about cerebral palsy.

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What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a group of conditions that affect the brain and nervous system. People with cerebral palsy will have problems with movement, cognition, sight and hearing.

Cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition, so people will experience symptoms caused by it forever. Cerebral palsy doesn’t improve or worsen over time, though its symptoms may lead to other health issues.

What Causes Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is caused by injury, infection or trauma to the brain. The resulting damage leads to permanent changes in the brain.

In many cases, the injury that causes cerebral palsy occurs before, during, or shortly after birth. Many conditions may put a baby or fetus at risk of developing cerebral palsy. Sadly, many of these issues can be treated and prevented with proper medical care.

Common causes of cerebral palsy include:

  • Low levels of oxygen in the brain (hypoxia)
  • Lack of oxygen (asphyxia) in the brain during labor or delivery
  • Premature birth complications
  • Bleeding in the brain
  • Brain infections
  • Infections in the mother during pregnancy that spread to the fetus
  • Severe jaundice
  • Other head injuries

Is Cerebral Palsy Genetic?

Usually, cerebral palsy is not something that a child inherits through genes. Typically, it develops due to trauma or damage to the baby’s brain before, during, or after their birth. However, recent studies suggest genetics may play a role in some cases.

Sometimes cerebral palsy symptoms are similar to ones found in some genetic disorders. During your child’s cerebral palsy assessment, their doctor may run blood tests to rule out any genetic disorders that your child might have in addition to their cerebral palsy.

How is Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?

Although it is difficult to diagnose an infant with cerebral palsy, most children are officially diagnosed before the age of 3. Many initial symptoms of cerebral palsy overlap with other issues, which can make the process difficult for parents.

An experienced doctor will take note of any symptoms and conduct a series of tests, scans, and exams in order to determine if your child has cerebral palsy. These include blood tests, MRIs, physical examinations, and CT scans.

There have been impressive advances in cerebral palsy care in recent years. Depending on their symptoms, many kids with cerebral palsy can go on to live healthy, comfortable, and independent lives.

What are the Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy?

What symptoms will appear with cerebral palsy depends on where and how badly the brain was damaged. Depending on the severity, symptoms may be noticed immediately after birth or not be noticed until months or years later.

Cerebral palsy symptoms in babies include:

  • A particularly high-pitched cry immediately after birth
  • Breathing issues at birth that require oxygen, CPR, or a breathing tube
  • Feeding issues (child needs a feeding tube, poor suck/poor weight gain)
  • Sudden lack of energy
  • Muscle tightness  (“balled” fists or rigid legs)
  • Muscle weakness (they have a “floppy” appearance or they can’t support their head/neck)
  • Seizures that may be obvious (notable convulsions) or subtle (“staring” seizures)

Some cerebral palsy symptoms in children include:

  • Lazy or cross-eye (strabismus)
  • Paralysis
  • Difficulty sitting, standing, or walking
  • Contracted joints in arms, legs, or trunk
  • Inability to speak
  • Muscle weakness or “floppiness”
  • Muscle tightness or spasticity
  • Seizures

Can Cerebral Palsy Be Cured?

At this time, there is no cure for cerebral palsy or its symptoms. However, medical experts continue to research with the hopes of finding a cure.

While cerebral palsy cannot be cured, many of its symptoms can be treated. Treatments vary depending on what type of cerebral palsy is present.

Treatments for Cerebral Palsy

Treatments for cerebral palsy can help manage or improve its symptoms. In some cases, people can make significant improvements with different treatments.

A combination of different treatments works best to manage different issues that may occur together. Treatments work best when they are started early, especially physical therapy for stiff muscles.

Cerebral palsy treatments can include:

  • Physical therapy to stretch tight muscles and help prevent deformities. A cerebral palsy physical therapist can also train your older child to use adaptive equipment, which includes everything from cerebral palsy wheelchairs to adapting the sink and toilet to their needs.
  • Medications such as muscle relaxants help to loosen up stiff and contracted muscles. Children who experience seizures might need anticonvulsant medications to treat them.
  • Surgery can lengthen tendons of stiff muscles and cut some nerve roots in the spinal cord to reduce muscle tightness. Surgery is only recommended for severe cases.
  • Long-term care at a specialized facility, where a team of doctors, nurses, and specialists work together to provide the best care for your child’s condition.
  • Participation in social activities, such as support groups, daycares, and summer camps designed for children with cerebral palsy.

How Frequently Does Cerebral Palsy Occur?

Cerebral palsy is very prominent in the modern era. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is estimated that anywhere between 2 to 6 out of every 1,000 children born will be diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

Unfortunately, cerebral palsy rates have not decreased though the quality of care of expectant mothers has increased. This may be due to the fact that cerebral palsy incidence is higher in premature babies, and advances in care help more of them survive than ever before.

What Should I Do if I Think My Child Has Cerebral Palsy?

If your child is experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.

If you believe your child has cerebral palsy, a good first step is to make a note of the signs or symptoms you see that appear not to match typical developmental milestones. If you observe symptoms of serious concern, they should be addressed quickly, as a child may require immediate medical action. You should monitor mild symptoms and see if they improve, worsen, or do not change.

Consult a doctor or pediatrician if your child is showing developmental issues or symptoms that may indicate cerebral palsy. A medical professional will be able to give you a proper diagnosis and instruct you on the next steps you should take.

How Can I Take Legal Action?

If you suspect that medical error or negligence may have caused your child’s birth injury, contact us by calling or by filling out the form at the bottom of the page. We may be able to help determine if the injury was a result of medical negligence or improper medical care.

Malpractice lawsuits have a statute of limitations, meaning that after a certain amount of time, you can no longer file a birth injury lawsuit whether someone was responsible for the birth injury or not. This time period varies drastically on a state-by-state basis. However, when a child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, the statute of limitations typically does not expire until they turn 18.

Birth Injury Support Team
Reviewed by:Katie Lavender, RN

Registered Nurse

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Katie Lavender has over 8 years of experience as a Registered Nurse in postpartum mother/baby care. With hands-on experience in Labor and Delivery and a role as a Community Educator for newborn care, Katie is a staunch advocate for patient rights and education. As a Medical Reviewer, she is committed to ensuring accurate and trustworthy patient information.

The Birth Injury Justice Center was founded in 2003 by a team of legal professionals to educate and empower victims and families affected by birth injuries. Our team is devoted to providing you with the best resources and legal information for all types of birth injuries.

View Sources
  1. Boston Children’s Hospital. (n.d.). Cerebral Palsy and Spasticity Center: What is Cerebral Palsy? Retrieved July 14, 2024, from http://www.childrenshospital.org/centers-and-services/programs/a-_-e/cerebral-palsy-program/what-is-cerebral-palsy#
  2. Mayo Clinic. (2019, August 17). Cerebral Palsy. Retrieved July 14, 2024, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cerebral-palsy/symptoms-causes/syc-20353999
  3. Miller, F., & Bachrach, S. J. (2017). Cerebral palsy: A complete guide for caregiving. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.