Cerebral Palsy Medication Explained
Medications for cerebral palsy cannot cure the disorder. However, medications can be useful for helping those with cerebral palsy and other birth injuries manage their symptoms.
Symptoms for cerebral palsy vary from person to person and condition to condition. Therefore, there are various types of medications available to be used when exploring effective treatment options.
Medications are most commonly used to treat spasticity and seizures, two of the most prominent symptoms associated with cerebral palsy.
Cerebral Palsy Medication for Spasticity
Muscles affected by spasticity become rigid. This leads to pain, contractures and the inability to complete many day-to-day tasks.
Medications for spasticity include the use of Botox®, which works by temporarily blocking the connections between the nerves and muscles to relax the spastic muscles.
Other cerebral palsy medications for spasticity include baclofen (Lioresal®), Zanaflex®, Valium® and Dantrium®.
Baclofen is a muscle relaxant medication used to treat spasticity, a common symptom of cerebral palsy. Spasticity can cause muscles to tighten and contract involuntarily. This can sometimes be very painful for the patient.
While baclofen taken orally was found to be effective in reducing spasticity, it also carries harmful side effects such as seizures, confusion and irregular heartbeats. Consulting with a doctor can determine if baclofen is the best option for your child. Baclofen is sometimes sold in the U.S. as Lioresal®.
Intrathecal Baclofen Therapy (ITB)
In response to reports of side effects, a new delivery system for baclofen was developed. Intrathecal baclofen therapy (ITB) was approved by the FDA in 1996 for people with cerebral palsy.
The system, also known as continuous intrathecal baclofen infusion (CIBI), features a programmable pump that delivers the drug to a targeted muscle or set of muscles. The pump is implanted under the skin and is refilled in a doctor’s office every four to eight weeks.
Intrathecal baclofen therapy is considered safer than baclofen taken orally, since less of the medication is needed when it is targeted. Less medication means less severe side effects.
However, about 5 percent of patients develop infections from the pump. There are also risks from abruptly ending baclofen therapy, including exaggerated rebound spasticity, muscle rigidity and, in very rare cases, organ failure or even death.
While intrathecal baclofen therapy can bring relief to some patients with cerebral palsy, it is not for everyone. To learn more about intrathecal baclofen therapy, consult with your child’s physician.
One of the major symptoms of cerebral palsy is tight or spastic muscles. Not only can this be painful for the individual, it can also lead to physical deformities without treatment.
Muscles relaxants help prevent the muscles from contracting and reduce the severity of the symptoms.
Diazepam, also known as Valium®, is a commonly prescribed muscle relaxant used to treat the symptoms of cerebral palsy. Not only does this medication help with muscle spasms, but it can also help with symptoms like anxiety, seizures and agitation that some people with CP may experience.
Diazepam is a depressant drug. Diazepam works by targeting the GABA receptors in the brain. This helps release GABA, a naturally occurring neurotransmitter chemical in the brain. Natural GABA release causes sleepiness and muscle relaxation.
Diazepam has been approved for use in children as young as six months old. Diazepam is available in tablet, oral liquid and injectable forms. When taken orally, diazepam is taken one to four times per day.
Diazepam is available only by prescription. Consult with your doctor to see if diazepam is right for your child’s condition.
Dantrolene (U.S. brand name Dantrium®) is an antispastic drug used to treat spasticity found in patients who have cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and other conditions.
Spasticity can cause muscles to tighten and contract involuntarily. This can sometimes be very painful for the patient.
According to the Mayo Clinic, dantrolene can relax the affected muscles and relieve the spasms, cramping and tightness. This helps decrease pain and stiffness.
For people with cerebral palsy, not only can dantrolene relieve the discomfort of spasticity, it can also make other treatments such as physical therapy more effective by allowing the muscles a greater range of movement.
To learn more about dantrolene, consult with your child’s physician. Dantrolene is available only by prescription.
Cerebral Palsy Medication for Seizures
Epilepsy, a condition that results in seizures, also occurs in about one-third of all cerebral palsy cases. Treating seizures with medication can be tricky since there isn’t a universal method that helps everyone.
Some effective medications for grand mal seizures (the most intense type) include carbamazepine (Tegretol), phenytoin (Dilantin®), valproic acid (Depakote), oxcarbazepine (Trileptal) and lamotrigine (Lamictal).
Cerebral palsy medication is only one piece of the puzzle for treatment. Physical therapy such as aquatherapy and even hippotherapy (therapeutic horse riding) is enormously effective for many people with cerebral palsy.
Dilantin® is a drug used to control seizures in patients with epilepsy and other conditions. Dilantin is the brand name for Phenytoin.
Dilantin® is in a class of medications called anticonvulsants. Anticonvulsants work by decreasing abnormal electrical activity in the brain. This decrease in activity is what helps control the seizures.
According to the National Institutes for Health, Dilantin® comes as an extended-release (long-acting) capsule, a chewable tablet and a liquid suspension that is taken orally.
Doses vary from about one to four times a day depending on the medicine’s form. Your child’s doctor will start with a low dose of Dilantin® and will gradually increase it.
Side effects of Dilantin® can occur.
Some of the most common ones include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Uncontrollable eye movements
- Abnormal body movements
- Loss of coordination
- Slowed thinking
- Slurred speech
- Swollen glands
Dilantin® is not effective in controlling all seizures. If you have any questions about Dilantin®, consult with your doctor.
Zarontin® is used to control a specific kind of epileptic seizure called a petit mal seizure. Petit mal seizures are also known as “absence seizures,” and are characterized by a short (less than one minute) loss of awareness.
Zarontin® is an anticonvulsant. Like all anticonvulsants, Zarontin® can help reduce the symptoms associated with epilepsy but cannot cure it. Zarontin® is the brand name for ethosuximide.
According to the National Institutes for Health (NIH), Zarontin® comes as either a capsule or liquid that is taken once or twice a day.
It is recommended that once started, a patient should continue to take Zarontin® even if they feel unwell. If the patient stops taking it suddenly, seizures may get worse. Your child’s doctor will start with a low dose of Zarontin® and will gradually increase it.
Sometimes patients taking Zarontin® experience side effects, including:
- Stomach pain
- Loss of appetite
If your child is suffering from seizures, your doctor may prescribe a medication called Tegretol®. Tegretol® is a drug meant for treating certain types of seizures in patients with epilepsy.
Tegretol® is one brand name for carbamazepine. Other brand names include Cabratrol® and Epito®. Tegretol® is an anticonvulsant like Zarontin® and Dilantin®.
Tegretol® use carries the possibility of serious side effects, including life-threatening allergic reactions called Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS) or toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN).
The risk of developing these reactions is highest in individuals with Asian ancestry who have an inherited genetic risk factor. Your child’s doctor might order a genetic test before prescribing Tegretol®.
Depakene® is an anti-seizure medication. Depakene® is the brand name for valproic acid. It is used to control seizures in patients with epilepsy and other conditions. Depakene® is also used to treat mania and prevent migraine headaches.
Depakene® is an anticonvulsant. It works by increasing the amount of neurotransmitters in the brain, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
While Depakene® is effective for controlling seizures in many individuals, it does come with serious dangers.
Depakene® should never be given to children under the age of two as it may cause serious or life-threatening damage to the liver. It should also never be given to individuals who are taking other anti-seizure medication or have an intellectual disability.
It is recommended that patients take the Depakene® at the same time every day with food to prevent an upset stomach. Depakene® is only available with a prescription. To learn more about Depakene®, consult your physician.
If your child is suffering from seizures, you may have heard of the anti-seizure drug Mysoline®. Mysoline is one of the brand names for the generic drug primidone.
Mysoline® is used to control seizures in patients with epilepsy and other conditions by decreasing excessive electrical activity in the brain.
Like all anticonvulsants, Mysoline® can only help relieve symptoms. It cannot cure epilepsy.
According to the National Institutes for Health (NIS), Mysoline® comes as a tablet and is taken 3 to 4 times a day. Patients are usually started on a low dose that is gradually increased. It can take a few weeks for the patient to feel the full effects of Mysoline®.
It is recommended that the patient continue taking the medication even if they do not feel well. Suddenly stopping the medication can make seizures worse. Side effects of Mysoline® can occur.
Some of the most common side effects include:
- Double vision
- Loss of coordination
- Uncontrollable eye movements
Mysoline® may not be able to fully control your child’s seizures. Consult with your doctor to make sure this medication is the best option for your child.
Klonopin is a drug used to control petit mal and grand mal seizures. It is also used to help treat panic attacks. Klonopin is the U.S. trade name for clonazepam.
Klonopin is in a class of medications called benzodiazepines. These medications work by decreasing the abnormal activity in the brain that cause seizures. In addition to its anticonvulsant properties, Klonopin also has muscle relaxant, anxiolytic and hypnotic properties.
Some side effects of Klonopin include drowsiness, tolerance (which makes the drug ineffective) and benzodiazepine dependence. Another side effect is benzodiazepine withdrawal, which happens to about one-third of patients treated with Klonopin for longer than four weeks.
If your child is suffering from seizures, your doctor may have prescribed a medication called phenobarbital. Phenobarbital is a medication sometimes used to control seizures in patients with epilepsy, including generalized or grand mal seizures and partial seizures.
Phenobarbital is in a class of medications called barbiturate anticonvulsants/hypnotics that work by slowing activity in the brain. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), phenobarbital is also effective in treating anxiety and sleep disorders.
Phenobarbital is very habit-forming. Long-term use of phenobarbital can lead to a high tolerance, meaning it will not be as effective in controlling symptoms as it was when the patient first began treatment.
Side effects of phenobarbital may include:
- Allergic reactions
- Abnormal thinking
- Low blood pressure
- Hyperactivity in children
Similar to other anticonvulsant drugs, phenobarbital may not be able to completely control seizures in your child. A visit to your doctor can help you determine if this medication will be the best solution.
Cerebral Palsy and Anesthesia
Cerebral palsy anesthesia injuries can happen during birth. Anesthesiologists provide a critical service by keeping the mother free from pain during birth or surgery such as cesarean section.
Unfortunately, there are some cases of a child’s cerebral palsy being caused by an epidural anesthetic that decreases fetal heart rate.
An anesthesiologist not only controls pain relief, they will also control and monitor the mother’s heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature before, during and after surgery. If anything goes wrong, there are only seconds to correct the situation before a fetus suffers a severe birth injury.
Injuries caused by anesthesia can happen when the infant’s brain is deprived of oxygen or their heart rate decreases drastically. This can result in damage to the part of the brain that controls movement. These injuries can cause permanent conditions like cerebral palsy in your newborn.