What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is often mistakenly called a disease, however the term refers to a group of chronic disorders that affect a person’s motor skills, muscle tone and muscle movement. Cerebral refers to the brain and palsy to muscle weakness or poor control. An estimated 764,000 children and adults nationwide exhibit one or more of the symptoms of cerebral palsy (CP).
Types of Cerebral Palsy: Spastic, Athetoid, Ataxic
About 70% of those diagnosed with CP were affected by damage to one or more areas of the brain during fetal development, while other children’s with cerebral palsy experienced brain injury during the birthing process. While muscles are affected, the abnormalities that characterize CP originate in the brain. Most people are able to move their muscles in a smooth and coordinated way, with their brain controlling the complex interactions between muscle and nerves. The cerebral palsy brain has problems controlling these interactions.
There are three types of cerebral palsy.
Spastic CP is the most common form and affects the body’s ability to relax muscles, causing tightness and difficulties in movement. Athetoid cerebral palsy affects the ability to control muscles, leading to involuntary and uncontrolled movements in the affected muscles. Children with Ataxic CP have a disturbed sense of balance and depth perception, characterized by tremors or shaky movements. Each case of cerebral palsy affects a child differently, and some have more than one form of CP (Mixed cerebral palsy). Learn more about the Types of Cerebral Palsy
Some individuals with CP experience only mild impairment of their motor abilities, while others are more profoundly affected by neurological problems that include epilepsy, learning disabilities and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. While cerebral palsy is not progressive, secondary conditions such as difficulty eating, bladder/bowel problems and learning disabilities may develop or get worse over time. There is no “cure” for CP in the traditional sense; however training, medicine, support and therapy can help to improve function.
The Cause Is Usually Unknown
In the majority of cases, the causes of cerebral palsy are unknown and develop in the baby’s brain during their mother’s pregnancy. Others with CP were injured during the birth process or soon after. Small, premature babies and babies who require a ventilator to help breathing are at the highest risk for developing cerebral palsy. Although today’s prenatal care and improved obstetrics have significantly reduced the number of birth injuries, it is doubtful that they will ever be eliminated.
Many physicians are reluctant to make a diagnosis of cerebral palsy until a child is 18 to 24 months old. Babies with CP often are developmentally delayed or slow to reach developmental milestones such as learning to roll over, sit, crawl, smile, or walk. By the time the child is two years old, the doctor can determine whether the child has hemiplegia (one side of the body is affected), diplegia (both arms or both legs are involved), or quadriplegia (all four limbs are affected). Based on the type of involvement, the physician can make certain predictions about the prognosis.
There are no specific tests to identify CP – tests are usually performed to rule out other causes of problems. Doctors rely on a combination of developmental observations by the parents, infant’s and mother’s medical histories and the infant’s muscle tone, strength and dexterity to make a CP diagnosis. Many of the normal developmental milestones are based on motor functions such as reaching for toys (3-4 months), sitting (6-7 months), and walking (10-14 months). Parents are often the first to suspect that their baby’s motor skills are not developing normally. Parents concerned about their baby's development for any reason should contact their physician, who can help distinguish normal variation in development from a developmental disorder.
Learn More: Causes of Cerebral Palsy
Living With CP
Approximately 90% of children with cerebral palsy survive into their 20s and beyond (compared with 98% of the general population of children). Quadriplegic children with CP have a lower survival rate largely due to respiratory illnesses and distress.
There are a large group of physicians, therapists, psychologists, educators, healthcare and social workers who help children with cerebral palsy reach their maximum potential including. Management of cerebral palsy includes training, therapy, medication, special equipment (including braces) and sometimes surgery. Once diagnosed, physical and speech therapy, learning, speech, hearing and developmental therapy should begin. Medication can help with severe muscle spasticity and those with dislocated hips or scoliosis (curvature of the spine) are candidates for surgery. As those with CP mature, they may require support services including assistance, educational and vocational training as appropriate to provide more function.
Cerebral palsy usually does not stop children from going to school, making friends or playing. Children with cerebral palsy face greater challenges in performing everyday tasks that other parents and children may take for granted. They may need to approach life differently or with assistance. The family plays an integral role in helping in the management of the condition of cerebral palsy. As with anyone, strong support and love go a long way in helping a family member with cerebral palsy live their life to the fullest. Many individuals with cerebral palsy go to school, work, get married and have homes and families of their own.
Learn More: Cerebral Palsy in Children, A Guide for Care
Your Legal Concerns
While most doctors, nurses, midwives, and hospital technicians provide a high standard of care for their patients, unfortunately, many families are harmed by medical mistakes. A physician may have misread fetal monitoring equipment, failed to diagnose fetal distress during labor, waited too long to perform a C Section, administered too much Pitocin, or failed to act in a timely manner. Parents of a child suffering with cerebral palsy should contact an experienced cerebral palsy lawyer to research the cause of their child’s condition.
A statute of limitations applies to cerebral palsy medical malpractice claims, placing time limits on the amount of time families have to pursue a CP medical malpractice case. These time limits vary from state to state, to learn what the time requirements for your state are, contact us.
"After all the information came out, I was bitter. But eventually I put it in my heart to forgive. It's not about the money, but it helps a lot, because brain injury causes a lot of problems that you don't know about early on."
"The saddest moment came when Ken told us that if Lizzy had been born any time between when I came in at 7 a.m. until 10 p.m., she would be fine. The doctor had misread the fetal monitoring strips. She had made a mistake."