A doctor’s insight into causes, symptoms and prevention

Cerebral palsy is prevalent in about 3/1000 live births in India. It is an umbrella term that encompasses children with different types and degrees of physical activity limitations. 70-75% of these children have spastic cerebral palsy, 10-15% have dyskinetic cerebral palsy, and 5% have atactic cerebral palsy. With such a high prevalence, cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability in children.

cerebral palsy | Image from a photo agency

dr Bidisha Banerjee – Specialist in Pediatric Neurology, Manipal Hospitals Old Airport RoadConditions, “There is currently no cure for cerebral palsy. However, with early detection, intervention, and proper treatment protocols, this condition can be managed to improve quality of life.” She explains the basics of cerebral palsy and how to manage a child struggling with the condition.”


Cerebral palsy (CP) is a disorder that affects a child’s ability to move and maintain posture and balance. Cerebral = connected to the brain and paralysis = weakness. Cerebral palsy occurs either due to abnormal development of the brain or damage to the brain in the developmental stages from birth to early life.

Causes of cerebral palsy

Injuries that damage the brain can lead to cerebral palsy. These include:

pregnancy complications

Preterm birth and related complications

brain infections

Baby head injuries, including Shaken Baby Syndrome

Events that block blood flow to the brain, such as strokes

Obstructed flow of oxygen to the brain due to difficult delivery, drowning

Risk factors of cerebral palsy

cerebral palsy |  Image from a photo agency
cerebral palsy | Image from a photo agency

Maternal health plays an important role in the prevalence of cerebral palsy. Certain infections during pregnancy can increase the risk of cerebral palsy in the baby. Inflammation from the infection or fever can damage the developing brain of the unborn baby.


This virus causes flu-like symptoms in the mother and can cause birth defects if the mother has an initial active infection during pregnancy.


This viral infection can be transmitted from mother to baby in the womb during pregnancy. The virus affects the uterus and placenta.


A sexually transmitted bacterial infection that can cause birth defects in babies.

German measles (rubella)

Viral infection that can be prevented with a simple vaccine.


A parasite found in contaminated food, soil, and feces of infected cats causes this infection.

Zika virus infections

An infection transmitted by mosquito bites that can affect fetal development.

intrauterine infections

Infections of the placenta or fetal membranes can lead to cerebral palsy.

Other Conditions

cerebral palsy |  Image from a photo agency
cerebral palsy | Image from a photo agency

If the pregnant mother has thyroid problems, preeclampsia, or seizures, the chances of adverse outcomes, including cerebral palsy, in the baby are high.

Infections and illnesses in the newborn can increase the risk of cerebral palsy.

Bacterial meningitis

Viral encephalitis

Severe or untreated jaundice

Bleeding into the brain and stroke

Symptoms of cerebral palsy

Signs and symptoms vary in every child with cerebral palsy. Irritability and feeding problems can occur in early childhood. Some common symptoms are:

Delays in movements and motor skills such as holding your head up, sitting, tipping over, crawling, or walking.

favoring one side of the body.

Body parts are too stiff or too loose.

sliding instead of crawling.

Cannot stand with or without support.

Early diagnosis through developmental monitoring of all babies, especially those born with risk factors, is essential. The use of standardized examination methods and corresponding brain scans facilitate the process.

Prevention of cerebral palsy

While most cases of cerebral palsy cannot be prevented, you can reduce the risks to the baby. Minimize pregnancy complications by observing the following:

Timely vaccinations

Timely vaccination before and during pregnancy is a must. Rubella vaccines are part of prenatal care to prevent infection in the pregnant mother.

prenatal care

The period from conception to birth is very crucial. The healthier you are during pregnancy, the less likely your baby will develop a complication that can lead to cerebral palsy.

vices and habits

If you are planning to get pregnant, make sure you and your partner stay away from alcohol, drugs, tobacco and smoking.

perinatal care

All high-risk pregnancies should be delivered in a hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit. Equally required are standard care for delivery room resuscitation and postnatal nutritional monitoring, the presence of jaundice, and infectious and timely treatment.

Treatment of cerebral palsy

cerebral palsy |  Image from a photo agency
cerebral palsy | Image from a photo agency

There is currently no cure for cerebral palsy, but medical treatment and surgery can help improve the child’s quality of life. Other adjuvant therapies such as music therapy, play therapy, art therapy, aqua therapy, occupational therapy, and behavioral therapy can help make the child a little more independent and improve the quality of life. In addition, comorbidities such as intellectual disability, epilepsy, visual, hearing and swallowing difficulties determine the quality of life. Therefore, interdisciplinary evaluation and treatment is important.

mimicking cerebral palsy

Not all children with physical disabilities have “cerebral” palsy. These difficulties can also arise from diseases of the spinal cord, nerves and muscles. Likewise, not all are acquired due to “brain injury” but could be due to genetic factors or treatable inherited metabolic disorders.

Because it is a chronic condition, the child, as well as the family and caregivers, need ongoing psychosocial support and inclusion in society at large.

dr Bidisha Banerjee is a Specialist in Pediatric Neurology at Manipal Hospitals Old Airport Road, Bengaluru. All views/opinions expressed in the article are those of the author. This is not medical advice.

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