Cerebral palsy is the most common movement disorder in children. It is caused by damage to the brain. This damage may happen before birth, during birth or during a child’s early life.
Although cerebral palsy is common, no two cases are alike. Cerebral palsy has many different causes, and symptoms are different for each child. Your child’s symptoms are based on which parts of the brain are affected, and how that affects movement control.
While cerebral palsy can’t be reversed, our team of experts at the Cerebral Palsy Center can help. We work with children of all ages to help them gain independence and confidence and improve their well-being.
What Causes Cerebral Palsy?
Injury to a child’s developing brain can cause cerebral palsy. This may happen:
- Before the child is born
- During delivery and birth
- When the child is an infant (under 1 year old)
Causes of brain injury may include:
- Premature birth (the baby is born too early)
- Lack of blood flow or oxygen to the baby around the time of birth
- An infection that harms the baby's brain
- Bleeds in the baby's brain (intraparenchymal hemorrhage)
- Bleeds in the fluid-filled spaces within the baby's brain (intraventricular hemorrhage)
- Lack of blood flow to a specific part of the baby's brain (stroke)
- High levels of jaundice (yellowing of skin and whites of eyes) that could not be treated in the baby (kernicterus)
- A genetic abnormality that affects the brain
Many children with cerebral palsy also have a second diagnosis. For instance, they may be diagnosed with cerebral palsy and a neonatal (newborn) stroke.
Cerebral Palsy Types
Many people don’t know what type of cerebral palsy their child has. During your first visit at the Cerebral Palsy Center, our doctors determine that for you. Knowing this also helps guide your child’s treatment.
At St. Louis Children’s Hospital, our doctors and providers have the expertise to care for children with any type of cerebral palsy. We work as a team to determine which treatments will be best for your child.
Cerebral palsy may cause different types of movement abnormalities, including:
- Spasticity, which means the muscles contract too much, causing stiffness and tightness
- Involuntary movements, which means their muscles move without the ability to control them
- Ataxia, which causes difficulty with walking, swallowing and other tasks that require muscle coordination
Spastic cerebral palsy
Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type of cerebral palsy. It may cause stiff muscles and weakness.
Doctors may diagnose your child with one of these sub-types of spastic cerebral palsy, depending on which limbs are affected:
- Spastic diplegia (affects two limbs)
- Spastic hemiplegia (affects the right side or left side of the body)
- Spastic quadriplegia (affects all four limbs)
- Spastic triplegia (affects three limbs, usually both legs and one arm)
Dyskinetic cerebral palsy
Children who have dyskinetic (also known as dystonic or athetoid) cerebral palsy have involuntary movements that make it difficult to control their hands, arms, feet and legs. They may also have trouble controlling their face and tongue, which can make talking or swallowing difficult.
Ataxic cerebral palsy
This type of cerebral palsy affects balance and coordination. Children with ataxic cerebral palsy might be unsteady when they walk. They may struggle with controlling their hands or arms.
Mixed cerebral palsy
Cerebral palsy may cause more than one type of movement abnormality. For example, a child may have both spasticity and involuntary movements. This is known as mixed cerebral palsy.
Care for Babies, Children and Teenagers
As a world-renowned pediatric hospital, St. Louis Children’s Hospital cares for children of all ages who have cerebral palsy. We understand the unique needs and concerns of each age group. Our goal is to help your child gain independence and confidence, regardless of their age or ability.
From infancy through the teenage years, we’re here to support and guide your child every step of the way. Learn more about our cerebral palsy services and treatments.
Make an Appointment at the Cerebral Palsy Center
If you’re a new patient, you’ll need a referral for care at our Cerebral Palsy Center. Please ask your physician to send us a referral before your first visit.