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What is cerebral palsy?

March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month. Scope helpline manager Veronica Lynch answers the most common questions she is asked about cerebral palsy, particularly the causes and effects of this condition.

Cerebral palsy is a neurological condition in which parts of the immature (up to age of 5 or 6 years) brain is injured or impaired. This injury generally affects muscles and balance and can result in a physical and/or sensory impairment. Cerebral palsy is the most common childhood disability affecting about one in 400 live births.

What are cerebral palsy symptoms?

The effects of cerebral palsy can range from extremely mild to profound with additional sensory or learning impairments. The condition is individual so no two people will be affected in the same way.

It’s impossible to give a list of symptoms as each person will be different. Doctors will generally look at any issues during pregnancy or at the time of birth, run neurological tests such as MRI scans (although a child could have cerebral palsy and this may not be depicted on an MRI) and observe the child as he or she develops. The average age for diagnosis is around 18 months to two years.

What is cerebral palsy caused by?

There could be a number of causes of cerebral palsy, such as an infection during pregnancy, oxygen starvation, failure for the brain to develop correctly. It is more common in twin or multiple births or in low birthweight and premature babies.

There is often no obvious cause. Recent research has shown there may be a genetic cause in about 14% of cases but more research is needed in this area.

Who does cerebral palsy affect?

Cerebral palsy can affect anyone although it is more common in boys than girls.

What is cerebral palsy life expectancy?

It’s possible for someone with severe cerebral palsy to have a shorter life expectancy either because the impairment to the brain is so severe that they do not survive to adulthood or because their posture and organs are affected causing respiratory or heart problems. However, in general, people with cerebral palsy will have the same life expectancy as anyone else. Read more about ageing and cerebral palsy.

We want to say a huge thank you to Veronica, who, after 26 years of working for Scope, is retiring at the end of March. Our helpline team especially will really miss her!

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