Cerebral palsy

Abnormalities of muscles and nerves in new-born babies, resulting from brain damage. The following symptoms can occur: paralysis, muscular weakness, stiffness, spasticity, involuntary movements, tremors and problems of muscular co-ordination, possibly together with convulsions, mental deficiency, defects of vision and hearing, and emotional problems. The cause is not always clear. Damage can occur before or shortly after birth. Causes in pregnancy can be hereditary factors, exposure to X-rays, haemorrhage or infection in the mother (such as German measles), and, during or shortly after birth, lack of oxygen, blood group antagonism, haemorrhage or infection. Symptoms vary according to the site of the damage. Spasticity is present in half the cases, affecting one or more parts of the body; other children show symptoms of slack paralysis. Still others exhibit a pattern of stiff posture, ceaseless involuntary movement, and loss of balance and muscular co-ordination. All cases show retardation both of motor development and the development of paralysed parts of the body. Diagnosis, from phenomena in the child’s mental and physical development, should be attempted as early as possible, but it is sometimes well towards the end of the first year that backwardness in motor development shows clearly. Serious damage is obvious immediately after birth. Treatment depends on the seriousness of the damage. Physiotherapy, speech therapy, medication and sometimes surgery to treat deformity are possible options. Intelligent children can be educated normally despite their handicap; in some cases admission to rehabilitation centres or other institutions is advised. Good counselling of the child and his or her family are of great importance.

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