Cerebral palsy is a condition where there are damages to a child’s brain leading to a group of disorders that affects muscle movement and coordination. The signs and symptoms vary from mild to severe depending on the extent of the damage. It is a lifelong condition that has no cure so children who have cerebral palsy require medical and non-medical care to be able to go about their daily activities.
Symptoms of cerebral palsy vary depending on the extent of brain damage and vary from person to person. Common symptoms include:
- Muscle stiffness and slow movement.
- Delay in sitting, standing, and crawling.
- Delayed growth.
- Difficulty learning.
- Speech, hearing and vision problems.
- Problems swallowing.
- Difficulty walking.
- Difficulty with tying shoelaces or buttoning up a shirt or picking up utensils.
- Uncontrolled drooling of saliva.
- Vision problems.
Brain damage usually starts before birth , but it can also occur in the first hours after birth and even early on in a baby’s life. Some possible causes are:
- A genetic mutation that affects the brain.
- Lack of oxygen to the brain during labour and delivery.
- Infection of the mother during pregnancy such as measles and herpes.
- Brain infections.
- Damage to the brain due to child abuse, a fall or a car accident.
- Bleeding into the brain.
- Severe jaundice during infancy.
The following puts a baby at the risk of developing cerebral palsy:
- A baby that is born before the 37th week of pregnancy.
- Low birth weight. A baby that weighs less than 2.5kg.
- Twins or triplets pregnancy.
- Mothers with health conditions such as herpes and syphilis.
- A baby that is born with the legs first instead of the head.
- Low apgar score (a score used to assess the physical health of a baby once it is delivered).
Ensure that you reach out to your healthcare provider if:
- There is a delay in your child’s development. For example, if you notice a delay with sitting then crawling, and then standing.
- Your child falls under any of the risk factors and you notice symptoms that suggest cerebral palsy.
- Your child finds it difficult to socialise or connect with children of the same age.
Take the following precautions to help prevent cerebral palsy:
- Register with your healthcare provider as soon as your pregnancy is confirmed. Do not also miss your clinic appointments.
- Ensure that you take all vaccines during pregnancy.
- Avoid alcohol, illegal drugs, and tobacco during pregnancy.
- Eat healthily.
- Use supplements like folic acid and zinc that help with your baby's growth.
Treatment of cerebral palsy is often aimed at improving the child’s quality of life and to prevent complications.
You can arrange your home so that it is easy for your child to do things and move around. You can also get devices that assist with your child’s day to day activities: These devices include:
- Hearing aids for any hearing problems.
- Eyeglasses to help with eyesight.
- Walking aids such as a wheelchair.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe the following medications and therapy sessions:
- Medicines to treat and prevent seizures.
- Medicines to relax muscles.
- Speech therapy to help with difficulties in speaking.
- Psychotherapy to address any mental health problems.
- Physiotherapy to help strengthen muscles, reduce muscle stiffness and overall pain.
- Surgeries to improve mobility and relieve pain.
Cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition with varying degrees of symptoms. It may be difficult to go about day-to-day activities, but with proper diagnosis, treatment and care these will improve. A support system of family and friends will help make life easier.