Types of Cerebral Palsy

Quick Answer

There are several different types of cerebral palsy. The types are usually categorized by symptoms. When symptoms overlap, cerebral palsy is said to be a mixed type.

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What are the Types of Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a disorder caused by brain injury. Since the brain is such a complex organ, cerebral palsy can be found in many forms. The location of the brain injury helps determine which type of cerebral palsy a person may have.

The characteristics of each form manifest in different ways. Cerebral palsy types can be classified by symptoms, the type of movement affected and the parts of the body that the condition impacts.

There are several types of cerebral palsy that vary in specificity. However, the medical community recognizes four major types of cerebral palsy. These types are spastic, ataxic, dyskinetic and mixed type.

Spastic Cerebral Palsy

Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type of cerebral palsy. It is characterized by stiff muscles. This muscle stiffness leads to jerky and/or repeated movements.

Spastic cerebral palsy affects 70% to 80% of patients. This type is further broken down into more specific cerebral palsy diagnoses. These other types are grouped according to the muscles involved and how they are affected.

Spastic Quadriplegia

Spastic quadriplegia involves high muscle tone which impairs movement. Symptoms include tremors or jerking of the arms and legs. Many people with spastic quadriplegia will not walk. This is the most severe type of cerebral palsy.

Spastic Diplegia

Spastic diplegia impairs the legs but has minimal or no impairment of the arms. People with diplegia have difficulty walking. Hip problems are common.

Spastic Hemiplegia

Spastic hemiplegia means one side of the body is affected. The affected side of the body is opposite the injured side of the brain. For example, if the right side of the brain were injured, the left arm and leg would be affected.

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Ataxic cerebral palsy is characterized by a lack of coordination and order. It is the rarest type of the condition, appearing in 5% to 10% of all people with cerebral palsy.

Symptoms of ataxic cerebral palsy include:

  • Poor coordination
  • Balance problems
  • Vision trouble
  • Difficulty walking

This type of cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the cerebellum, which helps control movement and coordination. Children with ataxic cerebral palsy often walk with their feet far apart. They may find it hard to be quick or precise. They may also have problems writing or buttoning clothes.

Some children with this type of cerebral palsy experience intention tremors. An intention tremor occurs when a child’s body trembles as they attempt a precise movement. For example, a child’s arm or hand may quiver when reaching for a book. As their hand moves closer to the book, the shaking worsens.

Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy

Dyskinetic cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia is the part of the brain responsible for controlling voluntary movements. Therefore, dyskinetic cerebral palsy is characterized by poor movement control.

Symptoms of dyskinetic cerebral palsy are involuntary and uncontrolled movements. These slow and uncontrollable jerky movements may manifest in the hands, feet, arms or legs. The muscle groups might be too tense in places and too loose in other places.

Children with this type of cerebral palsy may find it difficult to walk or use their hands. Some children with dyskinetic cerebral palsy may drool or make faces due to overactive muscles in the face and tongue.

There are different forms of dyskinetic cerebral palsy, depending on which structure in the basal ganglia has damage.

The forms of dyskinetic cerebral palsy are:

  • Dystonia: repetitive, twisting movements
  • Athetosis: slow, continuous movements
  • Chorea: irregular, unpredictable movements

Out of all cases of cerebral palsy, about 5% to 20% are dyskinetic. Dyskinetic cerebral palsy often occurs alongside spastic cerebral palsy, causing a mixed type of the condition.

Mixed Type Cerebral Palsy

Children with mixed type cerebral palsy may have characteristics from spastic, ataxic and/or dyskinetic cerebral palsies. Mixed type is the combination of at least two forms of the condition.

10% of all people with cerebral palsy have this type. The most common type of mixed type cerebral palsy is a combination of spastic and athetoid cerebral palsies. The least common type is a blend of ataxic and athetoid cerebral palsies.

Mixed type cerebral palsy involves elements of other forms of cerebral palsy. Therefore, its symptoms can vary from person to person.

One common symptom in people diagnosed with mixed type cerebral palsy is stiff muscles. Stiff muscles inhibit movement and are common to spastic cerebral palsy. Other common characteristics among those with mixed type cerebral palsy are difficulty with motor skills, swallowing and speaking.

Caring for Children with Cerebral Palsy

The quality of the care, education and treatment for a child with any type of cerebral palsy contributes to whether their prognosis will be severe or mild.

A child with severe cerebral palsy may not be able to walk, speak or sit up. They will need ongoing care for life. Mild cerebral palsy may have only minimal impact on a child. The child may require no special assistance.

Some cases of cerebral palsy are the result of medical negligence and could have been prevented with proper care before, during and after birth. Children with cerebral palsy need and deserve quality care, but caring for a child with this diagnosis can be expensive.

An experienced birth injury attorney can advise you about the costs of caring for your child with cerebral palsy. If your child’s condition was the result of medical malpractice, you may be eligible for financial compensation.

Call us today for a free legal case review. We will work with you to determine what compensation may be available to you.

Nurse Beth Carter

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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 3 Sources
  1. (2016). What are the types of Cerebral palsy? National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/cerebral-palsy/conditioninfo/types
  2. Cerebral Palsy. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/cerebral-palsy
  3. What is CP?. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.yourcpf.org/types-of-cp/
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