According to the US-based Cerebral Palsy International Research Foundation, globally more than 17 million people have cerebral palsy, with one in 500 babies diagnosed with the condition. In fact, cerebral palsy (CP), except in its mildest forms, can be apparent in the first 12-18 months of a child’s birth.
The disorder is usually caused by brain damage that happens before or during a child’s birth, or during the first three to five years of a child’s life. It affects muscle tone, movement and motor skills. The brain damage that leads to cerebral palsy can also result in other health issues, such as vision, hearing and speech problems, and even learning disabilities.
“Some of the early causes of the condition in early infancy could range from severe jaundice, brain infections such as encephalitis, meningitis and herpes simplex infections, head injuries, or maternal infections such as rubella,” says Dr. Marie-Josee Caron, Consultant – Pediatric Orthopedic Surgery, MD, Burjeel Hospital.
Children could be affected by any of the three types of cerebral palsy; spastic cerebral palsy, which causes stiffness in the muscles and makes it difficult to move, athetoid cerebral palsy that leads to uncontrolled movements especially in the arms, legs, and hands, ataxic cerebral palsy, which affects coordinated movements, balance and posture.
“Cerebral palsy affects muscle control and coordination, so even simple movements such as standing still are difficult. Other vital functions that also involve motor skills and muscles, including breathing, bladder and bowel control, eating and learning may also be affected when a child has CP,” says Dr Caron, who has extensive experience in the diagnosis, treatment and management of musculoskeletal injuries or conditions that occur during the growing years.
In terms of treatment, surgery and therapy can improve the quality of life for children suffering from CP. A child can begin therapy for movement, learning, speech, hearing and social and emotional development. “Medication, physical therapy and braces can also help increase muscle function. Orthopedic surgery can improve the gait and correct hip dislocation and scoliosis, which are common problems associated with CP,” says Dr. Caron.