The causes, symptoms and special care you need for your child with Cerebral Palsy  

Cerebral Palsy is caused by abnormal brain development or damage that affects a person’s ability to be able to control their muscles.

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Is your infant showing signs of having exaggerated reflexes, or floppy limbs? These are possible signs that they may be suffering from cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy (CP) is a congenital disorder, meaning it presents from birth, that affects movement, muscles and posture. It affects the nervous system functions including learning, hearing, seeing, and thinking.

In essence, CP is a group of disorders caused by abnormal brain development or damage that affects a person’s ability to be able to control their muscles. It normally occurs when the baby is still in the womb, during childbirth, or during the first years of life while the brain is still developing. It can occur due to reduced blood or oxygen supply to the brain, an infection caught during pregnancy or an injury to the baby’s head during pregnancy. After birth, CP can occur if the baby has a brain infection such as meningitis. Preterm, low birthweight or being a twin or triplet increases the risk of infants getting CP.

CP manifests differently in different individuals and is normally seen before a child is two years old. The symptoms may vary from very mild to very serious. A person with mild CP may have some tightness in the muscles that cause them to walk abnormally. On the other hand, those with severe cases may not be able to walk at all therefore needing lifelong care.

Some of the symptoms associated with CP are, having tight joints that do not open all the way, weak muscles or paralysis, abnormal feet or hands movement made worse by stress, loss of coordination and floppy muscles.

People with CP may also experience learning disabilities, speech problems, seizures, hearing or vision problems and pain in adults. Infants may find it hard to suckle when breastfeeding while older children experience difficulty in chewing and swallowing.

Other symptoms of CP may include drooling, urinary incontinence and slower-than-normal growth.

However, it is important to note that there are different types of CPs that manifest in different ways, therefore professional guidance is key to help you understand how best to take care of your child.

Can cerebral palsy be prevented?

In most cases, cerebral palsy cannot be prevented but there are ways that one can use to reduce the risk factors. As a mother, ensure that you are as healthy as possible before and throughout the pregnancy. In case you have had any infections, seek proper treatment before deciding to get pregnant and make sure that all your vaccinations are up to date. Ensure you consult your doctor on how to control underlying health issues such as diabetes or high blood pressure. RH factor tests can also help sort any blood type incompatibilities between the mother and child that may affect the baby.

After the baby is born, ensure that they are fully vaccinated to prevent diseases such as meningitis that may cause cerebral palsy. Also, incase of jaundice, seek medical attention to prevent a severe form of jaundice that may lead to brain damage.

Incase you have a child with CP, it is important to understand that the disorder cannot be fully prevented and special care and continuous consultation with doctors can only go so far as to help reduce the risk factors.

Dr Oyieke is a Consultant Paediatric Neurologist at Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi.

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