How Can Medications Help Treat Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy symptoms can be both physically and neurologically debilitating. Medications are often used to treat these symptoms to reduce their severity and curb pain. In some cases, medications can improve the functionality of muscles and maintain or increase range of motion.
The most common medications for cerebral palsy treat symptoms such as seizures and muscle spasticity. It is important to check with your medical provider to determine which medications best fit your child’s particular needs.
Medication for Spasticity
Muscle spasticity describes a condition in which the muscles become rigid and unable to expand and move properly. This condition is caused by cerebral palsy and leads to pain, contractures and the inability to complete day-to-day tasks such as getting out of bed or putting on clothes.
There are several medications that treat muscle spasticity, and they vary in their administration and side effects. If your child is suffering from muscle spasticity, you can expect your medical provider to suggest or prescribe medications such as Baclofen or Diazepam.
Baclofen works to relax tense muscles and reduce spasticity. It is a muscle relaxant that is often used in conjunction with other treatments like physical therapy. The medication acts on the central nervous system to produce its effects.
Baclofen side effects include:
Intrathecal Baclofen Therapy (ITB)
An intrathecal baclofen therapy (ITB) pump delivers a dose of baclofen at pre-programmed times. The pump is surgically inserted underneath the skin around the abdomen area. The pump will deliver the drug at different times during the day.
A doctor must refill the pump every three to four weeks and can adjust the timing of the transfers based on the patient’s specific needs. ITB was first approved by the FDA in 1992.
ITB side effects include:
- Loose muscles
Diazepam, also known as Valium®, 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 is used to treat seizures and muscle spasms, in addition to anxiety and alcohol withdrawal. It is administered via mouth with food, in either liquid form or in a concentrated solution. Some patients who have been using Diazepam for a long time may find that the drug does not have the same effect as it once did.
Diazepam side effects include:
- Blurred Vision
Dantrolene is a drug specifically prescribed to treat muscle tightness and spasms caused by nerve disorders. It relaxes the muscles and improves mobility while reducing stiffness and muscle pain.
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.
Dantrolene side effects include:
- Muscle weakness
- Slurred speech
Cerebral Palsy Medication for Seizures
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that occurs alongside cerebral palsy. It is caused by damage of critical sensory centers in the brain and subsequent abnormal electrical activity. Individuals suffering from epilepsy experience recurrent episodes of loss of consciousness, uncontrolled convulsions and sensory disturbance.
Each case of epilepsy is different due to the nature of the brain and its neuron connections. Doctors work with epilepsy patients to help them find the right medication for their specific needs.
Dilantin® is a drug used to control seizures in patients with epilepsy and other conditions. It is the brand name for Phenytoin. Dilantin® belongs to 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.
Dilantin® side effects include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Uncontrollable eye movements
- Abnormal body movements
- Loss of coordination
- Slowed thinking
- Slurred speech
- Swollen glands
Zarontin® is used to control a specific kind of epileptic seizure called a petit mal seizure. Petit mal seizures are characterized by a short loss of awareness.
Zarontin® is the brand name for an anticonvulsant called ethosuximide. Like all anticonvulsants, Zarontin® can help reduce the symptoms associated with epilepsy. However, it cannot cure it.
Zarontin® side effects include:
- Stomach pain
- Loss of appetite
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 Carbatrol® and Epito®.
Tegretol® is an anticonvulsant like Zarontin® and Dilantin®. It carries the possibility of serious side effects, including life-threatening allergic reactions called Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS) or toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN).
Tegretol® side effects include:
- Dry Mouth
- Swollen tongue
- Loss of balance
Depakene® is an anti-seizure medication and the brand name for valproic acid. It is used to control seizures in patients with epilepsy and other conditions such as mania and migraine headaches.
Depakene® is an anticonvulsant. It works by increasing the amount of neurotransmitters in the brain. 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.
Depakene® side effects include:
- Blurred vision
- Change in menstrual periods
- Changes in weight
Mysoline® is one of the brand names for the generic drug primidone and an anticonvulsant. It is used to control seizures in patients with epilepsy and other conditions by decreasing excessive electrical activity in the brain.
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®.
Mysoline® side effects include:
- Double vision
- Loss of coordination
- Uncontrollable eye movements
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 causes seizures.
In addition to its anticonvulsant properties, Klonopin also has muscle relaxant, anxiolytic and hypnotic properties.
Klonopin side effects include:
- Loss of balance
- Increased saliva production
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.
Phenobarbital side effects include:
- Allergic reactions
- Abnormal thinking
- Low blood pressure
- Hyperactivity in children
Cerebral Palsy and Anesthesia
Anesthesia can cause birth injuries during or prior to childbirth. Anesthesiologists work to keep the mother pain-free during vaginal delivery or cesarean section. However, if anesthesia is misused or an error is made, the anesthetic can actually decrease the fetal heart rate.
A decrease in fetal heart rate, or an increase in blood pressure, can prevent oxygen and nutrients from reaching the infant’s brain. This can lead to brain damage and cerebral palsy. Unfortunately, damage caused by anesthesia during birth can cause lifelong injury to the infant.
Treating Cerebral Palsy with Medication
There are many different medications used to treat cerebral palsy symptoms such as seizures and spasticity. If your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, it is important to work with a medical professional to determine what your child’s symptoms are and which medications will best manage their effects.
The symptoms of cerebral palsy vary based on the type and severity of the condition. If your child’s case of cerebral palsy was caused by medical negligence, then you may be eligible for a financial settlement to help pay for your child’s medications and treatment.