Cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy is the name for a group of lifelong conditions that affect movement and co-ordination, caused by a problem with the brain that occurs before, during or soon after birth. Speak to your health visitor or GP if you have any concerns about your child's health or development.

Symptoms of cerebral palsy

The symptoms of cerebral palsy aren't usually obvious just after a baby is born. They normally become noticeable during the first two or three years of a child's life.

Symptoms can include:

  • delays in reaching development milestones – for example, not sitting by eight months or not walking by 18 months
  • seeming too stiff or too floppy
  • weak arms or legs
  • fidgety, jerky or clumsy movements
  • random, uncontrolled movements
  • walking on tip-toes
  • a range of other problems – such as difficulty swallowing, speaking problems, vision problems and learning disabilities

The severity of symptoms can vary significantly. Some people only have minor problems, while others may be severely disabled.

When to get medical advice

Speak to your health visitor or GP if you have any concerns about your child's health or development.

Symptoms like those of cerebral palsy can have a number of different causes and aren't necessarily a sign of anything serious.

Your child may be referred to specialists in child development who can do some checks and tests to see if there is a problem.

Causes of cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy can occur if a baby's brain doesn't develop normally while in the womb, or is damaged during or soon after birth.

Causes of cerebral palsy include:

  • bleeding in the baby's brain or reduced blood and oxygen supply to their brain
  • an infection caught by the mother during pregnancy
  • the brain temporarily not getting enough oxygen (asphyxiation) during a difficult birth
  • meningitis
  • serious head injury

But in many cases, the exact cause isn't clear. 

Treatments for cerebral palsy

There's currently no cure for cerebral palsy, but treatments are available to help people with the condition have a normal and independent a life as possible.

Treatments include:

  • physiotherapy – techniques such as exercise and stretching to help maintain physical ability and hopefully improve movement problems
  • speech therapy to help with speech and communication problems, and difficulty swallowing
  • occupational therapy – where a therapist identifies problems that you or your child have carrying out everyday tasks and suggests ways to make these easier
  • medication for muscle stiffness and other problems
  • in some cases, surgery to treat movement or growth problems

A team of healthcare professionals will work with you to come up with a treatment plan that meets your or your child's needs.

Outlook for cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy affects each person differently and it may be very difficult to predict what the outlook will be for you or your child.

Generally speaking:

  • most children live into adult life and some can live for many decades
  • the condition may limit your child's activities and independence, although many people go on to have full, independent lives
  • many children go to a mainstream school, but some may have special educational needs and benefit from attending a special school
  • the original problem with the brain doesn't get worse over time, but the condition can put a lot of strain on the body and cause problems such as painful joints in later life
  • the daily challenges of living with cerebral palsy can be difficult to cope with, which can lead to problems such as depression in some people

Speak to your care team about the likely effects of cerebral palsy on you or your child.

Help and support

If you or your child have been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, you may find it useful to contact a support group for information and advice.

Scope is the main UK charity for people with cerebral palsy and their families. They offer:

You may also want to ask your care team if they can provide information about support groups in your local area.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

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