Cerebral Palsy:

Causes, Effects and Treatments

Cerebral palsy, or “CP,” is one of the most common birth injuries in America. The term actually describes a combination of several different types of physical and developmental brain disorders that may occur in the womb, during labor and delivery, or soon after a child is born.

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for cerebral palsy. Its effects are permanent and will last the duration of the child’s life, unless the future holds significant medical breakthroughs.

However, therapy, assistance, adaptive care and support can make a real difference in allowing a child with CP to achieve their maximum potential. Some children with less-severe cases of cerebral palsy may be able to lead a fairly normal life with only minor health issues and some problems with mobility. On the other hand, the most severe cases of cerebral palsy will necessitate constant care for the person’s lifetime.

Cerebral palsy affects every person differently. Seizures, problems with controlling body movement and posture, paralysis, and spasticity are common symptoms. CP sometimes causes issues with intellectual development, though cerebral palsy has no effect on the intelligence of many people with the condition.

What Caused My Child’s Cerebral Palsy?

If your child has been diagnosed with CP, it’s understandable that you might ask yourself how it happened. Cerebral palsy has a number of potential causes. They include:

  • Brain damage due to oxygen deprivation – Known medically as “hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy,” brain damage caused by low oxygen can occur if the fetus gets insufficient oxygen during the delivery process. This frequently occurs when the umbilical cord is wrapped around the child’s neck. Preeclampsia or placental abruption can also cause reduced oxygen flow to the baby during labor and delivery.
  • Infection during pregnancy – If the mother develops certain types of infections during pregnancy, it can affect the development of the child’s brain and nervous system, resulting in cerebral palsy. Examples of infections that can result in CP include cytomegalovirus, rubella and toxoplasmosis.
  • Jaundice that goes untreated – Brain damage that leads to cerebral palsy can result from severe jaundice that is not properly treated.
  • Mother’s body “rejects” the baby – In some cases, Rh incompatibility between the mother and the baby causes the mother’s immune system to reject the fetus and attack it as a foreign object. This blood condition can cause jaundice that results in brain damage, including cerebral palsy.
  • Prolonged labor – If medical professionals fail to property handle a difficult delivery – including failing to order an emergency Caesarian section – it may cause damage to the baby’s brain cells that can lead to cerebral palsy.
  • Bleeding inside the baby’s skull – A hemorrhage in the baby’s brain can damage brain cells and cause cerebral palsy. This may be the result of an external trauma (blow to the head) or overly aggressive use of medical instruments such as forceps and vacuum extractors.
  • Overuse of Pitocin – Excessive use of the labor-inducing drug Pitocin is believed to contribute to cerebral palsy.
  • Stroke – If the mother or baby suffers a stroke during pregnancy, labor or delivery, this may cause the baby to develop CP. Mothers who have coagulation (clotting) disorders face a greater risk of stroke during pregnancy.
  • Head injuries – Falls, car accidents, shaken baby syndrome and other forms of child abuse may cause damage to a baby’s brain that leads the way to cerebral palsy.
  • Infections in the brain – If a newborn, infant or toddler develops certain brain infections – such as meningitis or encephalitis – it can cause permanent brain damage and CP.
  • Mother’s abuse of drugs or alcohol – If a fetus is exposed to drugs, alcohol or other toxic substances while in the womb, it may cause brain damage, including CP. Babies are susceptible to fetal alcohol syndrome and other conditions related to drug and chemical exposure.

What Are the Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy?


CP is a complex disorder that may cause a wide variety of problems across a wide spectrum of severity. Each case of cerebral palsy is different and includes a unique combination of conditions and intensity. Many people with CP have only certain symptoms and are completely free of others.



  • Muscle twitching
  • Difficulty controlling muscles
  • Unsteady gait
  • Impaired balance and posture
  • Muscle spasms
  • Scissor or toe walking
  • Abnormal tension or resistance to movement in the muscles
  • Joint and bone deformities
  • Problems with intellectual development
  • Learning disabilities
  • Behavioral issues
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty with speech and communication
  • Deafness
  • Blindness

What Treatments
Are Available for
Cerebral Palsy?

CP affects many different parts of the body and many different systems – both physical and cognitive. Children with cerebral palsy often need a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses all of their issues.

Some of the medical professionals who may be involved in developing and carrying out a CP treatment plan include:

  • Pediatricians
  • Physical therapists
  • Orthopedists
  • Neurologists
  • Speech therapists
  • Mental health professionals
  • Social workers

Cerebral palsy treatment plans often have several goals, such as minimizing pain, improving communication, relaxing overactive muscles, improving motor function and treating other related health issues.

Some common treatments for people with CP include:

  • Medicine to control seizures
  • Injections to decrease spasticity and reduce pain
  • Relaxation training, medication, and therapeutic massage to relieve pain
  • Occupational therapy to teach essential life skills
  • Language and speech therapy to improve communication, reduce swallowing and chewing problems, and reduce drooling
  • Therapy and medication to improve continence
  • Surgical procedures to relieve overactive muscles and twitching
  • Bisphosphonates to increase bone mineral density in patients who are unable to walk
  • Braces to improve motor function
  • Wheelchairs, walkers and other assistive medical devices

Additional Resources