This is a term for a disorder of movement and posture resulting from damage to a child's brain during pregnancy, birth or in the early newborn period. These disorders are non-progressive which means they do not get worse over time.
A child with cerebral palsy may suffer from spastic paralysis (abnormal stiffness or contraction of groups of muscles), arthetosis (involuntary writhing movements) or ataxia (loss of co-ordination or balance). The degree of disability is highly variable. Many affected children also have learning difficulties.
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How can this injury occur?
In the vast majority of cases the damage is caused either during pregnancy or during birth. The most common cause is "cerebral hypoxia" (poor oxygen supply to the brain) which can occur in a variety of ways during both pregnancy and birth.
Occasionally the condition can be caused by maternal infection spreading to the baby through the uterus. Post birth, possible causes include encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis, head injury or intracerebral haemorrhage.
Cerebral Palsy may not be recognised until well into the baby's first year. Sometimes the muscles feel "floppy" or less firm than you might expect and mothers tend to pick up on the fact that the baby is not as strong as it should perhaps be. There may also be feeding problems and a delay in seeing the baby sit up .
Once identified most children fall into two groups:
In which the muscles of one or more limbs are permanently contracted and stiff thus making normal movements difficult. These children may be affected by:
Diplegia - in which all four limbs are affected, but the legs more than the arms.
Hemiplegia - In which the limbs on just one side of the body are affected, usually the arm worse than the leg.
Quadriplegia - In which all four limbs are severely affected.
This group is characterised by involuntary writhing movements.
Some degree of learning difficulties occur in the majority of children but it is less prevalent in those suffering with athetoid cerebral palsy.
The symptoms of most types of cerebral palsy can improve over time with specialised management and treatment.
Of the children suffering from this condition only a small proportion will have been the victim of medical negligence. it can be very difficult to determine the timing of any damage and proving causation can be difficult.
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