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Cerebral palsy is a term used to describe a specific group of chronic conditions affecting body movements and muscle coordination.

The biggest part of the human brain is called cerebrum and it has many functions but the most important is definitely the control of sensation and voluntary motor function. The fact is that cerebral palsy results from an abnormality in or injury to this part of the brain. It is very important to know that, although cerebral palsy affects movement, the problem isn't in muscles themselves but in the affected part of the brain. In some cases, the cause of the condition is well known and doctor can precisely tell whether cerebral palsy is caused by, for example bacterial meningitis, or by some kind of head injury. However, doctors don't understand the cause of most cases of cerebral palsy which is present at birth completely. There are several theories as to what may cause cerebral palsy: some experts claim that it might be caused by the lack of oxygen on birth or some other problems during labor and delivery.

Experts have identified many possible causes of congenital cerebral palsy, including:

  • Infection during pregnancy, such as rubella or other viral infections
  • Jaundice in newborns. This condition could be caused by infection, severe bruising or problems with red blood cells due to ABO or Rh incompatibility.
  • Abnormal brain development before birth, which could be the result of severe genetic causes or metabolic disorders
  • Disturbance to brain circulation before birth, caused by an artery spasm or blood clot, similar to a stroke in adults

Diagnosis of cerebral palsy

Although the signs may be present at birth, the diagnosis is sometimes very difficult during the first six months. In fact making a definite diagnosis of cerebral palsy is often hard before the child's first birthday.

Physical examination

Doctor should first just observe child and talk with parents about child's physical and behavioral development. He should also check the reflexes, muscle tone and movements.

Computerized tomography (CT) scan

Images created with a CT scanner show the structure of your child's brain, as well as the presence and extent of any damage. It can also show the presence of hydrocephalus, and other bone malformations.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan

The good thing about this diagnostic tool is that it uses no radiation. Instead of it, a computer creates tissue-slice images of the brain from data generated by a powerful magnetic field and radio waves. This can give 3D images of a child’s scull and brain.

Other tests
Some children may need genetic or metabolic tests to help rule out other conditions.

Differential diagnosis of cerebral palsy

It is very important for the doctor to know how to make a difference between cerebral palsy and some other conditions that can resemble it!

Spinal cord dysfunction

This condition may be a result of a spinal cord injury, spina bifida, or a congenital spinal cord malformation. Children with spinal cord dysfunction experience several medical problems which are similar to the ones in the cerebral palsy but they also have some different symptoms at the same time.

Chromosomal anomalies

The fact is that some children with chromosomal anomalies or congenital disorders may appear similar to children with cerebral palsy while others, such as children with Down's syndrome, appear very different from children with cerebral palsy.

Other conditions

All muscle, nerve, and bone disorders should be easily distinguished from cerebral palsy by definition.

Such conditions include:

  • muscular dystrophy,
  • peripheral neuropathies such as Charcot-Marie- Tooth disease,
  • osteogenesis imperfecta.
  • progressive neurological disorders such as Rett's syndrome, leukodystrophy, and Tay-Sach's disease

Complications if left untreated

Cerebral palsy can lead to several problems, such as:

  • Development of joint deformities or dislocation, if there's considerable spasticity
  • Nutrition problems, if there are swallowing or feeding difficulties
  • Difficulty with vision, hearing and speech
  • Dental problems
  • Mental retardation
  • Seizures
  • Abnormal sensation or perception
  • Incontinence

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