The term cerebral palsy, or CP, refers to a neurological disorder that appears in infancy or early childhood (most commonly under 37 weeks of age) and permanently affects body movement and muscle coordination but does not worsen over time.
In CP, faulty development or damage to motor areas in the brain impair the body's ability to control movement and posture. This results in a number of chronic neurological disorders. CP is usually associated with events that occur before or during birth, but may be acquired during the first few months or years of life as the result of head trauma or infection.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), the early signs of CP usually appear before a child reaches three years of age. The most common are ataxia (a lack of muscle coordination when performing voluntary movements), spasticity (stiff or tight muscles and exaggerated reflexes), walking with one foot or leg dragging, walking on the toes, a crouched or scissored gait, and muscle tone that is either too stiff or too floppy. A small number of children have cerebral palsy as the result of brain damage in the first few months or years of life, brain infections such as bacterial meningitis or viral encephalitis, or head injury from a motor vehicle accident, a fall, or child abuse.
Even though CP affects muscle movement, it is not caused by problems in the muscles or nerves. It is caused by abnormalities in parts of the brain that control muscle movements.
There is no cure for CP, but treatment can improve the lives of those who have it. Treatment includes medicines, braces, and physical, occupational, and speech therapy. Cerebral palsy is neither contagious nor inherited, nor is it progressive. The symptoms of cerebral palsy (CP) differ from person to person and change as children and their nervous systems mature. Some have other medical conditions, including seizure disorders or mental impairment.
Approximately one million people in the United States have CP. Improvements in prenatal, pediatric, and intensive care over the past 30 years have enabled more critically premature and frail babies to survive infancy. Many of these surviving children suffer developmental disorders and neurological damage.
Some persons with severe CP are completely disabled and require lifelong care, while others display only slight awkwardness and need no special assistance. Complications associated with CP include learning disabilities, gastrointestinal dysfunction, tooth decay (dental caries), sensory deficits, and seizures.
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