What is CPCerebral Palsy (CP) is a term used to describe a group of disorders affecting body movement and muscle co-ordination. The medical definition of cerebral palsy is a "non-progressive" but not unchanging disorder of movement and/or posture, due to an insult to or anomaly of the developing brain. Development of the brain starts in early pregnancy and continues until about age three. Damage to the brain during this time may result in cerebral palsy.
This damage interferes with messages from the brain to the body, and from the body to the brain. The effects of cerebral palsy vary widely from individual to individual. At its mildest, cerebral palsy may result in a slight awkwardness of movement or hand control. At its most severe, CP may result in virtually no muscle control, profoundly affecting movement and speech. Depending on which areas of the brain have been damaged, one or more of the following may occur:
(1) muscle tightness or spasms
(2) involuntary movement
(3) difficulty with "gross motor skills" such as walking or running
(4) difficulty with "fine motor skills" such as writing or doing up buttons
(5) difficulty in perception and sensation
These effects may cause associated problems such as difficulties in feeding, poor bladder and bowel control, breathing problems, and pressure sores. The brain damage which caused cerebral palsy may also lead to other conditions such as: seizures, learning disabilities or developmental delay. It is important to remember that limbs affected by cerebral palsy are not paralysed and can feel pain, heat, cold and pressure. It is also important to remember that the degree of physical disability experienced by a person with cerebral palsy is not an indication of his/her level of intelligence.
Cerebral palsy is not a progressive condition - damage to the brain is a one-time event so it will not get worse - and people with cerebral palsy have a normal life-span. Although the condition is not progressive, the effects of CP may change over time. Some may improve: for example, a child whose hands are affected may be able to gain enough hand control to write and to dress him/herself. Others may get worse: tight muscles can cause problems in the hips and spine of growing children which require orthopaedic surgery; the aging process can be harder on bodies with abnormal posture or which have had little exercise.
Medically it is important to remember that Cerebral Palsy:
(1) is NOT contagious
(2) is NOT hereditary
(3) is NOT life-threatening