Overview of Cerebral Palsy

In cerebral palsy, faulty development or damage to motor areas in the brain impair the body's ability to control movement and posture. This results in a number of chronic neurological disorders. Cerebral palsy is usually associated with events that occur before or during birth, but may be acquired during the first few months or years of life as the result of head trauma or infection.

Cerebral palsy is neither contagious nor inherited, nor is it progressive. The symptoms of cerebral palsy (CP) differ from person to person and change as the child's nervous system matures.

Some people with severe CP are completely disabled and require lifelong care, while others display only slight awkwardness and need no special assistance. Complications associated with CP include learning disabilities, gastrointestinal dysfunction, tooth decay (dental caries), sensory deficits, and seizures.

Types of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy (CP) is classified as spastic, athetoid, ataxic, or mixed. These classifications reflect the type of movement disturbance displayed by the patient.

  • Spastic CP–stiff, permanently contracted muscles; 50 to 75 percent of cases
  • Athetoid CP (also called dyskinetic cerebral palsy)–slow, uncontrolled, writhing movements; 10 to 20 percent of cases
  • Ataxic CP–poor coordination, balance, and depth perception; 5 to 10 percent of cases
  • Mixed CP–two or more types present; about 10 percent of cases (percentage may be higher)

Incidence of Cerebral Palsy

Approximately 1 million people in the United States have CP. Improvements in prenatal, pediatric, and intensive care over the past 30 years have enabled more critically premature and frail babies to survive infancy. Many of these surviving children suffer developmental disorders and neurological damage.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 01 Jan 2000

Last Modified: 03 Sep 2015