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Cerebral palsy is a term used to describe a wide range of neurological disorders that affect muscle movements. We’ll explore the different types of cerebral palsy, identify the symptoms, and look at an overview of how the diagnostic process takes place.

What Is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy (CP) is the medical term used to describe a host of neurological conditions that affect muscle movements and coordination. The term is often misunderstood by people who haven’t had personal experience with the condition. All forms of CP are caused by injury or abnormal development to parts of the brain responsible for controlling muscle movement or coordination. While symptoms may change over time, the condition isn’t progressive (meaning it doesn’t get progressively worse over time). Some cases are apparent at birth, especially if there were complications during pregnancy or labor, but most are diagnosed by the age of 3.

Cerebral palsy is usually diagnosed during very early childhood.

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Types of Cerebral Palsy

There are two main types of cerebral palsy: spastic and non-spastic. We’ll look at each of them.

Spastic Cerebral Palsy

Spastic cerebral palsy is sometimes called pyramidal instead. With this type, certain muscles experience muscle spasms or twitching. The affected muscles spend an abnormal amount of time tightened, making it difficult to move, eat, or talk. There are four types of spastic CP.

  • Hemiplegia or Diplegia: hemiplegia is when the arm and leg on the same side of the body are affected, while diplegia is when both legs are affected
  • Monoplegia: only one arm or leg is affected
  • Quadriplegia: both arms and both legs are affected; this type causes the most problems with eating and talking because it often affects the trunk as well as the limbs
  • Triplegia: either both arms and one leg or both legs and one arm are affected

If you were reading closely, you probably noticed the names are a clue to how the body is affected. For example, ‘mono’ means ‘one’, ‘quad’ means ‘four’, and ‘tri’ means ‘three’. This can make it easier to remember the types of spastic CP.

Non-Spastic Cerebral Palsy

Non-spastic cerebral palsy is also called extrapyramidal. There are two types of non-spastic CP.

  • Dyskinetic: muscles rapidly flex and relax, causing uncontrolled or jerky movements; this type most often affects the face, neck, hands, feet, arms, and legs. Dyskinetic CP can be further classified into two sub-types. Athetoid (hyperkinetic) CP is characterized by limp muscles during sleep and lack of muscle control in the face and mouth. Dystonic CP is when the body and neck are permanently stiff. The muscles never relax.
  • Ataxic: this is the rarest form of CP; it affects the entire body, ultimately influencing balance, coordinated movements, precision, and hand control

Mixed Cerebral Palsy

It is also possible for an individual to have a combination of spastic and non-spastic CP.

Diagnosing Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is notoriously hard to diagnose because it can take a while for symptoms to appear, and there is no single test that can be used to diagnose CP.

It may be suspected at birth, especially if there were complications during pregnancy or during labor. In that case, the child is closely monitored during the first few years, and his ‘milestone’ achievements are monitored (eating, talking, walking, etc.).If CP is suspected, there are a number of different tests and doctors involved in the diagnosis process. In addition to a pediatrician, geneticists, neurologists, ophthalmologists, otologists, and orthopedic surgeons may all be involved in the process. They will monitor a child’s motor skills, run analyses on blood samples, and try to rule out any other conditions.The use of neuro-imaging tests can be helpful during this process.

Cranial ultrasounds, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans may be used to get pictures of the brain. Specialists can review the images to look for abnormalities, like those that cause CP.Diagnosis is often a lengthy process, but once the specific type of CP is identified, treatment can begin. Though there is no cure, it’s possible to teach a child how to cope with his symptoms so that he still has a high quality of life.

Lesson Summary

Cerebral palsy is a term used to describe any neurological disorder affecting muscle control. Illness or injury can damage parts of the brain responsible for muscle control, causing visible symptoms; however, CP is not a progressive disease. Most cases are diagnosed at birth or within the first 3 years of life.

There are two primary categories of CP: spastic and non-spastic. There are four type of spastic CP: hemiplegia/diplegia, monoplegia, quadriplegia, and triplegia. There are two main types of non-spastic CP: dyskinetic and ataxic.

We can further break dyskinetic CP into athetoid and dystonic CP. Diagnosing CP can be difficult because there is no single test that can be used. A team of doctors will monitor a child, especially during the early years. Lab tests, analyzing motor skill development, and the use of imaging scans can help during the diagnosis process.

There is no cure for CP, but often a child can learn coping mechanisms to live with the symptoms.Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is for your information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.


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