Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of movement and coordination disorders caused by abnormal brain development or brain damage.

It’s the most common neurological disorder in children and affects about 3.1 for every 1,000 8-year old children, according to a 2014 study.

Symptoms of CP vary in severity, but they usually come on within the first 2 years of life.

Common symptoms of CP include:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), CP usually develops before birth but may also be acquired during early childhood.

The condition doesn’t get worse with time, and many children with CP go on to live independent lives. More than half of children with CP can walk without aid, according to the CDC.

In this article, we’ll examine the most common causes of CP. We’ll also answer questions that you may have about this common movement disorder.

CP that develops either before, during, or within 4 weeks of birth is known as congenital CP.

About 85 percent to 90 percent of CP cases are congenital, according to the CDC. CP that develops more than 28 days after birth is called acquired CP.

Congenital CP causes

In many cases, the exact cause of congenital CP is often not known. However, any of the following conditions are possible causes.

  • Asphyxia neonatorum. Asphyxia neonatorum is a lack of oxygen to the brain during labor and delivery and can cause brain damage that leads to CP.
  • Gene mutations. Genetic mutations can lead to abnormal brain development.
  • Infections during pregnancy. An infection that travels from a mother to a fetus can cause brain damage and CP. Types of infections that are linked with CP include chickenpox, German measles (rubella), and bacterial infections.
  • Bleeding in the brain. A fetal stroke can lead to brain damage and CP. Fetal strokes may be caused by abnormally formed blood vessels, blood clots, and heart defects.
  • Abnormal brain development. Infections, fevers, and trauma can cause abnormal brain growth that leads to CP.

Acquired CP causes

CP is known as acquired CP when it develops more than 28 days after birth. Acquired CP generally develops within the first 2 years of life.

  • Head trauma. A serious head injury can lead to permanent brain damage. Common causes of head trauma include car collisions, falls, and assault.
  • Infections. Meningitis, encephalitis, and other infections can lead to permanent brain damage.
  • Jaundice. Untreated jaundice can lead to a type of brain damage called kernicterus. Kernicterus can lead to cerebral palsy, vision problems, and hearing loss.

Can adults get cerebral palsy?

Adults can’t develop CP. It only comes on during the first 2 years of life. However, many adults live with cerebral palsy that developed during early childhood or before birth.

Can shaken baby syndrome cause cerebral palsy?

Shaken baby syndrome is head trauma caused when a baby is shaken too hard or hits their head. Shaken baby syndrome can cause brain damage that can lead to cerebral palsy.

Is cerebral palsy genetic?

Research hasn’t yet found CP to be a genetic disorder. However, according to a 2017 review, some researchers suspect it may be possible for genetics to be a contributing factor to developing cerebral palsy.

Does smoking during pregnancy cause cerebral palsy?

Smoking during pregnancy increases the chances that a fetus will have abnormal brain development.

This abnormal brain development can contribute to conditions like cerebral palsy or seizures, as noted in a 2017 study.

Can a stroke cause cerebral palsy?

Childhood strokes can cause cerebral palsy in children. A stroke is a blockage of blood flow in the brain that can cause damage to surrounding tissues.

Is cerebral palsy degenerative?

Cerebral palsy is not degenerative and doesn’t get worse over time. A proper treatment plan that includes exercise and sessions with healthcare specialists can help manage and improve symptoms.

There are four medically recognized types of CP. It’s also possible to have a mix of symptoms from different types of CP.

Spastic cerebral palsy

Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common form. About 80 percent with CP have this variation. Spastic cerebral palsy causes stiff muscles and jerky movements.

Many people with this disorder have abnormal walking patterns. People with severe spastic CP might not be able to walk at all.

Dyskinetic cerebral palsy

Dyskinetic cerebral palsy causes abnormal and involuntary limb movements. It may also affect tongue movements.

People with dyskinetic cerebral palsy often have trouble walking, talking, and swallowing. Their movements can either be slow and twisty or fast and jerky.

Hypotonic cerebral palsy

Hypotonic cerebral palsy causes your muscles to become overly relaxed. Often, a person with hypotonic CP has limbs that appear floppy.

Babies with this condition often have trouble supporting their head. Older children may have problems with speaking, reflexes, and walking.

Ataxic cerebral palsy

Ataxic cerebral palsy causes voluntary limb movements that lead to problems with balance and coordination. People with this type of CP may also have trouble with fine motor movements.

Mixed cerebral palsy

Some people with CP may have symptoms of more than one type of CP. Many people with mixed CP have a mix of spastic and dyskinetic CP.

CP can cause a variety of physical problems due to abnormalities in movement. People with CP may also feel isolated, which can lead to mental health conditions like depression or anxiety.

The following are potential complications of cerebral palsy:

People with CP also have higher rates of various conditions like:

CP isn’t degenerative and doesn’t get worse with age. Symptoms often improve with a proper treatment program.

Treatment involves physical therapy, medication, and occasionally surgery to help manage movement problems. Types of treatment include:

  • physical therapy
  • occupational therapy
  • speech therapy
  • recreational therapy
  • muscle relaxants
  • muscle injections
  • orthopedic surgery
  • selectively cutting nerve fibers (in rare cases)

The onset of cerebral palsy is either before birth or in early childhood. With proper diagnosis and treatment, many people with cerebral palsy are able to live full and independent lives.