Cerebral Palsy FAQs

Child with CrutchesBelow are answer to some of the most frequently asked and searched questions regarding cerebral palsy.

What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is disorder someone is born with in which their brain has been damaged and they are not able to control and coordinate normal movement of muscles in certain areas of their body. Cerebral palsy is primarily a physical movement disorder but it can also involve mental impairment. Cerebral palsy comes in different forms and individual cases range from mild to very severe.

Is Cerebral Palsy a Disease?

No. Cerebral palsy is not really a disease like cancer or AIDS. Instead cerebral palsy is a permanent disability caused by injury to the brain before or during childbirth. Cerebral palsy is not contagious and is not related to a virus or bacteria.

Is Cerebral Palsy Infectious or Contagious?

No. Cerebral palsy is a disorder that is caused by physical injury to the brain during fetal gestation or birth and not by exposure to any virus or bacteria. Cerebral palsy is not any more infectious than a broken leg or a concussion.

What Causes Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is the result of injury or damage to the developing brain of a fetus or newborn baby. The "injury" to the brain that triggers cerebral palsy is related to oxygen deprivation. Cells in the brain need a continuous circulation of oxygen or they will rapidly start to decay and die. When the brain of a fetus or infant is deprived of oxygen it quickly causes neurologic damage and the brain ends up developing abnormally. The end result is an impaired brain that is not able to exercise normal control and coordination over body movement.

There are a number of different conditions or events during pregnancy or childbirth which can potentially disrupt oxygen to the brain and lead to cerebral palsy. When hypoxic brain damage occurs during fetal gestation (pregnancy) potential causes can include maternal infections such as chorioamnionitis and prenatal asphyxiation from complications involving the placenta or umbilical cord. Oxygen deprivation during labor and delivery is the more common cause of CP and can result from a number of events or complications during childbirth. When CP is the result of something that happens during delivery, medical error is frequently involved. For more detailed information on the specific events and complications that often result in cerebral palsy visit our page on Causes of Cerebral Palsy.

What are the Different Types of Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is actually not just one single disorder but actually a grouping of several different movement disorders that are caused by the same type of injury to the brain. The different movement disorders under the cerebral palsy umbrella have been categorized into 3 separate CP subtypes:

  1. Spastic: spastic CP is the predominant cerebral palsy subtype. Over 75% percent of all cerebral palsy cases are classified as spastic. People with spastic CP primarily suffer from hypertonia which is excessive muscle rigidity which blocks normal movements. When someone has spastic CP their brain transmits conflicting movement signals to muscle groups in the body. Instead of signaling one group of muscles to engage while opposing muscles disengage, the person's brain signals both muscles to engage simultaneously. This contradictory message from the brain causes muscles to oppose each other and essentially freeze up instead of moving fluidly. The resulting rigidity prevents normal body movement in the affected area. Spastic CP cases are divided into subcategories depending on what area of the body is disabled by the muscle lock-out. Diplegia = lower body. Hemiplegia = upper body. Quadriplegia = entire body.
  2. Dyskinetic / Athetoid: dyskinetic or athetiod cerebral palsy (also called dyskinesia) is the second most common subtype of CP, accounting for somewhere between 5-10% of all cases. People with this type of cerebral palsy suffer from 3 types of involuntary muscle movements: athetosis (slow contortion or twisting of the arms and legs); dystonia (repetitive contracting or twisting when attempting to move); and chorea (rapid irregular movements like crazy dancing). Dyskinetic CP is not limited to specific areas of the body and affects all muscles.
  3. Ataxic: ataxic CP is the rarest subtype and accounts for less than 5% of all cerebral palsy cases. Ataxic cerebral palsy causes severe hypotonia which is the medical term for lack of muscle tone (floppy muscles). Children with ataxic CP will often display a rag-doll appearance because of the lack of muscle rigidity. Ataxic CP also makes it very difficult to execute fine motor movements such as writing.
How Common is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is the most common type of physical movement disability in the United States. Current estimates suggest that about 1 million people are currently living with cerebral palsy in U.S. However, the chances of having a baby with cerebral palsy are still comparatively low. For every 1,000 newly delivered babies only 5 will be born with some type of cerebral palsy - which is .005%. This equates to around 10,000 new cerebral palsy babies annually. Visit our page on cerebral palsy facts and statistics for more information about CP occurrence rates and demographics.

How Long do People Live With Cerebral Palsy?

Fortunately cerebral palsy is not a disorder than directly decreases or limits a child's expected life span. For starters, cerebral palsy is not a progressive condition meaning it is not a disorder that gradually gets worse and worse over time. The brain injury that triggers cerebral palsy is an isolated occurrence. Once the damage to the brain occurs it doesn't spread to other parts of the brain.

Cerebral palsy impacts a child's ability to move normally but it does not necessarily impair the normal functioning or longevity of their body. In fact, most children with mild to moderate cases of cerebral palsy can be expected to live just as long as any normal child. The only caveat to this is that some children with very severe cases of cerebral palsy may be more prone to accidental events that could statistically shorten their life span. For example, some kids with cerebral palsy have difficult chewing and swallowing food. This increases their risk of choking accidents. It also may lead to problems with malnourishment. Either of these secondary effects of CP can potentially reduce life expectancy. For additional information on the how long people with cerebral palsy live visit on page on Life Expectancy with Cerebral Palsy.

What is the ICD-10 Code for Cerebral Palsy?

The ICD-10 code for cerebral palsy is G80.9. This may seem like an odd entry on this cerebral palsy FAQ list, but the ICD code for cerebral palsy is actually one of the most frequently searched internet phrases for CP. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) is a globally recognized standard for coding and classification of health and mortality statistics. Health insurance companies, hospitals, and healthcare providers use the ICD codes for insurance billing and reimbursement purposes. The ICD-10 is the most current version which went into effect in 2018.

When is Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?

Most cases of cerebral palsy are diagnosed within the first 18 months after birth. However, mild cases of cerebral palsy may take significantly longer to diagnose because the physical symptoms are more subtle. Milder cases of cerebral palsy often do not get diagnosed until the child is 3-4 or even older. Diagnosis is usually made by the child's pediatrician based on clinical symptoms and failure to meet certain developmental milestones (e.g., sitting up by 6 months, walking by 18 months, etc.). Once cerebral palsy is suspected based on clinical symptoms, the assumptive diagnosis is usually confirmed with diagnostic imaging tests like a CT scan. For more information about the clinical symptoms of cerebral palsy visit our page on Cerebral Palsy Symptoms.

How to Prevent Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is the result of neurologic damage during pregnancy or childbirth, usually from oxygen deprivation. The best way to prevent or decrease the risk of having a baby with cerebral palsy is to get the best possible prenatal medical care and the best possible care during labor and delivery. Most cases of cerebral palsy are actually the result of preventable medical errors by doctors, nurses or hospital staff.

How is Cerebral Palsy Treated?

One of the sad aspects of cerebral palsy is that there is no "cure" for the disorder. Once the brain injury that causes cerebral palsy occurs there is no way to medically repair or reverse the damage. Treatment options for cerebral palsy are generally aimed at alleviating the various symptoms of the disorder and helping children manage and adapt to their disability. A typical treatment plan for cerebral palsy will involve a combination of:

  1. Medications: various prescription medication are used to alleviate movement problems, limit secondary symptoms like seizures, reduce pain and/or make other problematic CP symptoms easier to handle. For example, muscle relaxants like Baclofen or Valium are commonly prescribed to kids with spastic CP who suffer from excess muscle stiffness. Drugs called anticholinergics are used to help control the random, involuntary movements that occur in people with dyskinetic CP.
  2. Physical Therapy: physical therapy is the foundation of treatment for almost all children with cerebral palsy. Regularly physical therapy can help children with cerebral palsy train and manage their muscles around the limitations of their disability. Physical therapy has proven to be very effective at increasing the physical abilities of people with CP. Physical therapy can enable a child to do things like get themselves dress or walk independently which can have a dramatic impact of overall quality of life.
  3. Occupation Therapy: occupational therapy is a more targeted variation of physical therapy. While physical therapy works on improvement of macro muscle functions and skills, occupational therapy focuses closer in on the enhancement of micro muscle movements and fine motor skills. The goal of occupational therapy is to teach children with cerebral palsy to do things like writing, typing, buttoning a shirt, etc.

For more information about the various treatment options available for children and adults with different types of cerebral palsy, visit our page on Cerebral Palsy Treatment Options.

Cerebral Palsy Malpractice Attorneys

Cerebral palsy is strongly linked to medical malpractice because the reality is that a large percentage of CP cases are undeniably the result of medical errors or negligent medical care during pregnancy or in the labor and delivery room. The consequences of having a child with cerebral palsy can be devastating, both economically and emotionally. When these consequences are the result of a mistake by doctors or hospitals parents have every right to get financial compensation.

If you have a child with cerebral palsy and you suspect that it may be the result of medical malpractice, the cerebral palsy lawyers at Miller & Zois can help you. Call us at 800-553-8082 or request an online consultation.

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