Cerebral Palsy

  • Affects 1 in every 500 New Zealand children
  • 7000 New Zealanders currently live with cerebral palsy
  • 17 million people have cerebral palsy worldwide

Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term for a group of childhood brain disorders that affect movement and posture. It hinders the body’s ability to perform controlled movements and can also affect eating, speaking, breathing, bladder and bowel control.

Cerebral palsy generally appears in very early childhood as the result of brain damage that occurs before or during a baby’s birth. Around 1 in every 500 babies in New Zealand is born with cerebral palsy, making it the most common cause of childhood disability in this country.

Signs and Symptoms:

Cerebral palsy encompasses several different individual disorders, which present with a variety of symptoms depending on the area of the brain that is affected. The most common form of cerebral palsy is known as spastic cerebral palsy (accounting for around three quarters of all cases) and affects the area of the brain that controls movement.

Children with cerebral palsy have a range of different symptoms, around one in three cannot walk, one in four cannot talk and three quarters experience significant pain. Cerebral palsy can affect different parts of the body meaning movement difficulties may be confined to the lower body, one side of the body, or the whole body.

In most patients, the diagnosis is made in the first two years of a person’s life.

Causes and Treatment:

Cerebral palsy is the result of a brain injury that occurs before, during, or after birth while the brain is still developing. In many cases, the exact cause of this injury is unknown; however there are several identified risk factors, including:

Maternal Health

  • Viruses such as rubella, chickenpox, Zika virus or herpes during pregnancy
  • Poor nutrition during pregnancy
  • Thyroid problems or maternal diabetes
  • Drug or alcohol use during pregnancy
  • Infections during pregnancy, including dental infections

Prenatal and birthing problems

  • Damaged placenta
  • Breech birth
  • Other birthing complications

Infantile illness

  • Viral infections such as encephalitis
  • Bacterial infections such as meningitis

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