Cerebral Palsy - What is it?

Cerebral Palsy is a condition that results from a neurological (brain) injury that may have occurred  in the womb and it affects movement, posture, co-ordination and muscle control. An estimated 1 in 400 babies are born with this condition.

“Whilst the care of a child with Cerebral Palsy may involve significant time and financial input, I think perhaps the most important thing to understand is that this is not a progressive condition and those diagnosed can live long, happy and quality lives,” explains Dr Fysh, Chief Medical Officer at EmbryoCare.

This is a condition that will vary significantly from case to case and not all cases are the really serious versions we inevitably envisage. Having said this, it is a chronic medical condition and will require long-term supportive care. What most cases do have in common is that the child will be diagnosed as part of a  gradual process and it is unlikely that the diagnosis will be confirmed until around a year old.

How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosing Cerebral Palsy is a complex, multi-step process that takes some time. Often investigation is initially triggered by parental observations; reporting symptoms such as floppiness to their GP. From here a number of tests, observations and evaluations will be undertaken, alternative explanations will be systematically ruled out and finally a diagnosis made – most commonly between one and two years of age.

“The impact of diagnosis on the family can be devastating as they face a lifetime of care and there is no cure,” says Dr Fysh. “But physiotherapy can help a great deal, there is a significant amount of support available and experimental treatments are increasingly available. It does take some adjusting and will require significant time investment, which can be difficult, particularly when parents both need to work and/or there are already other children in the family. Alterations to the home, an appropriate vehicle, good quality wheelchair, can make a substantial difference to quality of life.”

Types of Cerebral Palsy

The recognised symptoms are generally grouped under three main types, though some experience a combination of these:

Spastic - Around 80% of people with Cerebral Palsy experience spasticity, meaning the muscle tone is tight and stiff causing a decreased range of movement and causing pain and spasm. It is worth noting that in the early stages babies may actually appear floppy initially, and will develop the stiffness later.

Dyskinetic – also known as dystonic, athetoid or choreoathetoid cerebral palsy. This only occurs in about 15% of people with cerebral palsy, causing uncontrolled, involuntary, muscle contractions. This can make speech and maintaining an upright position very difficult.

Ataxic - defined as ‘an inability to activate the correct pattern of muscles during movement’, this specifically impacts balance, and perhaps spatial awareness. Only about 4% of people with cerebral palsy are diagnosed with this version.

Additional concerns

There are a number of associated concerns with Cerebral Palsy, though, once again, their occurrence and severity will vary significantly between individuals.

Sufferers will often experience initial feeding difficulties, communication difficulties, drooling, sleep issues and concerns with toileting.

One in four children with Cerebral Palsy will have behavioural issues.

One third of children will suffer from epilepsy, whilst some may experience learning or cognitive difficulties, though this is not necessarily a side-effect of the condition; children with Cerebral Palsy are thought to cover the same range of intelligence as other children).

Finally hearing impairment effects around 8% of the children diagnosed.

What does the treatment look like?

Early diagnosis can really help as therapies can be introduced before the child develops full symptoms. Treatment will be regular and ongoing and is likely to include a combination of physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, medications, and perhaps surgery.

 

Causes

Researchers are still exploring the causes of this condition, but there are a number of common pre-determinates identified. It is worth pointing out that most are circumstantial and not something that the mother can actively avoid:

  • Infection in the early part of pregnancy
  • Accident during pregnancy causing damage to the foetus’ brain
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain
  • Abnormal brain development
  • A genetic link (though this is rare)
  • Difficult or premature birth (significant efforts are currently being made to reduce the occurrence of these)
  • Twins or multiple births
  • Mother’s age being below 20 or over 40
  • Father under 20 years
  • First child or fifth (or more) child
  • Baby of low birth weight (less than 2.5 KILOS)
  • Smoking during pregnancy

Where to go for support

The local borough council will generally offer the family some form of grant. In addition, the following charities provide a wide range of advice, support and even funding:

SCOPE: http://www.scope.org.uk/?gclid=CKH2qPLZ-coCFRIz0wodl6oJqg

PACE: http://www.thepacecentre.org/

EmbryoCare Future Family Insurance is a unique policy that provides expectant mothers with added assurance from the 20 week scan* through to their child's second birthday. EmbryoCare aims to ease the financial impact of unforeseen costs that can result from 14 covered conditions - including Cerebral Palsy. Premiums start at £16 per month.

*EmbryoCare's policy can be accessed following a clear 20-week scan. EmbryoCare Limited is an Appointed Representative of Pulse Insurance Limited, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

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EmbryoCare is a Trading Name of Future Family Limited. Future Family Limited (Company Number 07828098) is an Appointed Representative of Pulse Insurance Limited. Pulse Insurance Limited (Firm Reference No. 308626) is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

 

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