Cerebral Palsy Prognosis

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

Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to one or more parts of the brain. This affects muscle tone, muscle control and motor activity. Fortunately, the life expectancy of people with cerebral palsy is usually no different from those without the condition unless it is very severe.

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Understanding a Cerebral Palsy Prognosis

If your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy or has symptoms of the condition, you may wonder about their prognosis.

A prognosis is the predicted outcome of a disease or condition. When it comes to cerebral palsy, a prognosis evaluates a child’s likelihood of performing certain skills, such as walking, as they get older.

A typical cerebral palsy prognosis is static. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the condition neither improves nor worsens throughout life. However, after childhood, the symptoms can change. Wear and tear resulting from uncontrolled movements can lead to problems with bones, joints, ligaments, and muscles.

A child’s ability to live independently with cerebral palsy varies depending on the prognosis. Some patients will require personal assistant services for all activities of daily living. Other patients lead semi-independent lives, and some live in complete independence. The need for personal assistance may change as the patient gets older.

How to Reach a Prognosis

A doctor or other health care professional may determine a prognosis in various ways.

Doctors can monitor a child’s developmental milestones to determine the outlook of their condition. For example, if a 2-year-old child can sit up on their own, they will most likely eventually be able to walk. On the other hand, if a 4-year-old child cannot sit up on their own, they will likely never be able to walk.

However, each case of cerebral palsy is different, so monitoring symptoms may not be the most accurate way to judge how the condition will progress. Other means of reaching a prognosis include imaging tests of the brain and nerves.

This type of testing, called neuroimaging, uses CT scans and MRIs to predict the progression the cerebral palsy will take. Neuroimaging typically accompanies clinical evaluation to determine the best treatment for patients based on their specific condition.

Prognosis Statistics

According to a 2012 study conducted by the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Research Institute and the University of Notre Dame School of Medicine in Sydney, Australia, the following statistics were gathered based on a sample of children with cerebral palsy.

  • 75% of children with cerebral palsy experienced pain due to their condition.
  • 50% had an intellectual disability.
  • One-third of children with the condition could not walk.
  • One-third had a hip displacement.
  • 25% of children with cerebral palsy could not talk.
  • 25% had epilepsy.
  • 25% had some sort of behavior disorder.
  • 25% had issues controlling their bladder.
  • One-fifth of children had a sleep disorder.
  • One-fifth of children experienced problems with drooling.
  • 10% were blind.
  • One in every 15 children with cerebral palsy required tube feeding.
  • One in every 25 children were deaf.
Nurse’s Note:

Pain is considered as crucial as blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and respiratory rate in health care, termed the “fifth vital sign.” Uncontrolled pain can elevate heart rate and blood pressure, disrupting oxygen and nutrient delivery. Effective pain management is essential to prevent serious health consequences.

Children with cerebral palsy (CP) often experience multiple symptoms, not just one. This leads to considerable costs for treatments, therapies, and medications, as well as frequent travel for doctor appointments.

The financial strain on families is substantial, and the need for assistance is significant. Moreover, the extensive time commitment to therapies can be overwhelming, making it feel like CP dominates your life. Therefore, choosing the right therapies is crucial – those that enhance independence while minimizing the risk of complications from interventions.

Cerebral Palsy Life Expectancy

According to the Life Expectancy Project, a research group at the University of California, the main indicators for determining a person’s cerebral palsy life expectancy are gross motor skills and feeding. This means that as long as a child can eat and move, their life expectancy is no different than that of a person without the condition.

Most children diagnosed with cerebral palsy can live normal, healthy, and productive lives. This is especially true if they receive ongoing treatments such as medication and therapy. If a child’s case of cerebral palsy is severe, their lifespan and quality of life may be decreased. Certain symptoms are also more likely to lower a child’s life expectancy.

Symptoms which can impact a child’s life expectancy include:

  • Restricted mobility
  • Feeding difficulties
  • Seizures
  • Vision or hearing problems
  • Mental disabilities
  • Poor respiratory function

Life Expectancy Statistics

  • A two-year-old child with mild cerebral palsy has a 99% chance of living to the age of 20.
  • A two-year-old with severe cerebral palsy may have as low as a 40% chance of living to the age of 20.

Improving Quality of Life

Whether your child’s cerebral palsy is mild or severe, there are many treatments and methods available for improving their quality of life. In severe cases, improving the quality of life may also improve life expectancy. In more mild instances of the condition, improving the quality of life can simply help patients live more independent lives.

Ways to help improve the quality of life include:

  • Improving mobility
  • Managing pain
  • Increasing social and peer interactions
  • Treatment of related conditions like epilepsy
  • Maximizing independence in day-to-day activities
  • Improving speech and communication skills
  • Ensuring adequate nutrient intake
  • Promoting self-care
  • Maximizing learning potential

Getting a Second Opinion

Although the condition is usually present at the time of birth, symptoms of cerebral palsy may take months or years to appear. Therefore, it can be hard to get an accurate diagnosis and prognosis for a child with the condition.

Typically, an accurate prognosis cannot be determined until after a child’s second birthday. During their first years of life, children are still developing mentally and physically. This is why many doctors need time to make an accurate diagnosis and prognosis. Fortunately, the disease will not progress or worsen over time in most cases.

Even after a cerebral palsy diagnosis and prognosis, it can still be helpful to get a second opinion. The symptoms of cerebral palsy may be similar to those of other conditions. For example, a lack of fine motor skills is often found in children with cerebral palsy. However, this symptom can be caused by other conditions like a genetic disorder.

Getting a second opinion can confirm a cerebral palsy diagnosis or reveal that your child actually has a different condition. It can also give you an increased understanding of your child’s condition and its severity, allowing you to pursue the most effective treatments.

A second opinion can give you and your family peace of mind because you will know the truth about your child’s condition and how to provide the best care possible.

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. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Cerebral Palsy: Outlook & Prognosis. Retrieved November 26, 2023, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/8717-cerebral-palsy/outlook–prognosis
  2. Novak, I., et al. (2016). A systematic review of interventions for children with cerebral palsy: State of the evidence. Physical Therapy, 96(2), 183-198. Retrieved November 26, 2023, from https://doi.org/10.2522/ptj.20140370
  3. Pediatrics. (2012). [Article title]. Pediatrics. Retrieved November 26, 2023, from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2012/10/02/peds.2012-0924.full.pdf