Cerebral Palsy (CP) refers to a group of conditions that results from abnormalities in the development of the fetal or infantile brain. These permanent, central motor dysfunctions affect muscle tone, posture, and movement. In some cases, they may interfere with sensation or perception, intellectual abilities, or communication and behavior. They can also be associated with seizure disorder or musculoskeletal complications.
What causes CP? It seems that prematurity and low birth weight are the biggest risk factors for the disease, but there isn’t a single causal factor. Several other suspected risk factors include:
- Perinatal hypoxic-ischemic injury: This is where blood flow going to the fetus is decreased, resulting in a lack of oxygen to the brain.
- Congenital abnormalities of the central nervous system: The cause of this is largely unknown, but developmental abnormalities can result from radiation exposure, toxins, or infections during critical periods of gestation.
- Genetic susceptibility: Newer genomic technology is showing that there may be a genetic component of cerebral palsy.
- Multiple birth.
- Stroke during the perinatal period.
- Intrauterine infection: cytomegalovirus, syphilis, Zika virus, varicella, or toxoplasmosis. Bacterial infections may also play a role.
- Postnatal trauma, infections, or hyperbilirubinemia.
In some cases, no identifiable cause is to be found. CP is usually diagnosed at 18-24 months based on neurobehavioral signs, developmental reflexes, and motor tone and posture. CP presents differently depending on the specific area of the brain that is affected and although CP does not get worse over time, it may change presentation as the brain grows and develops.