Cerebral palsy is a term that describes a variety of disorders of movement
or posture. These movement problems are due to brain abnormalities that occur
early in development. Cerebral palsy affects motion, muscle strength, balance,
and coordination. These problems are first noted in early childhood and continue
into adult life. The muscles of speech, swallowing, and breathing may be involved.
Intellectual disabilities (mental retardation) and seizures can also occur,
but these problems are not always present. There are about 500 000 persons
who have cerebral palsy in the United States. The November 26, 2003, issue
of JAMA includes an article about cerebral palsy.
Spastic—muscles of the body are
stiff and tight and do not allow normal movement
Dyskinetic—muscles stiffen on their
own to cause abnormal postures of the arms or legs; may also have writhing
Ataxic—balance and coordination
Infection of mother during pregnancy—including rubella (German measles) and other infections in the womb
Premature delivery of an infant—premature babies have immature
brain tissue that is susceptible to injury
Inadequate oxygen or blood flow to the brain in the mother's womb
or during delivery
Rh disease—mother and fetus have incompatible blood proteins;
Rh disease can be prevented with immunization of the mother at appropriate
Congenital (birth) defects
Head trauma (including shaken baby syndrome)
Jaundice in the newborn baby—buildup of chemicals that may
harm an infant's developing brain
Babies with cerebral palsy are slow to reach their developmental milestones.
They may not smile, roll over, sit up, crawl, or walk at the expected time.
Doctors use physical examination, medical history of the child and the mother,
simple tests, and more complex tests to diagnose cerebral palsy.
Cerebral palsy cannot be cured. However, quality of life can be improved
for most children if they receive support and coordinated care, which may
include a variety of experts. Different kinds of therapy (physical therapy,
occupational therapy, speech therapy) help children to maximize their potential
activities at various stages of development. Coordinated treatment of disorders
such as seizures and spasticity are crucial in helping children with cerebral
palsy lead a healthier life. Medical research is working toward improving
diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cerebral palsy.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke800/352-9424http://www.ninds.nih.gov
March of Dimes800/367-6630http://www.marchofdimes.com
United Cerebral Palsy800/872-5827http://www.ucp.org
To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page
link on JAMA 's Web site at http://www.jama.com. Many
are available in English and Spanish. A Patient Page on mental retardation
was published in the September 25, 2002, issue.
Sources: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, March
of Dimes, United Cerebral Palsy
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in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For
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TOPIC: CHILD HEALTH
Torpy JM, Lynm C, Glass RM. Cerebral Palsy. JAMA. 2003;290(20):2760. doi:10.1001/jama.290.20.2656