There are many different forms of the disability, each caused by damage to a different area of the brain. The spastic type, accounting for over half of the cases, results from damage to the motor areas of the cerebral cortex and causes the affected muscles to be contracted and overresponsive to stimuli. Athetoid cerebral palsy, caused by damage to the basal ganglia, results in continual, involuntary writhing movements. Choreic cerebral palsy is characterized by jerking, flailing movements. Ataxic cerebral palsy, involving the cerebellum, causes either an impaired sense of balance or a lack of coordinated movements. In addition to these types, which may occur singly or together, emotional, visual, and hearing impairments and convulsive seizures may be present. Some of those affected have a degree of mental retardation, but in many the intellect is unimpaired.
There is no cure for the disorder. Treatment usually includes physical, occupational, and speech therapy, and sometimes includes biofeedback and muscle relaxants. Sometimes appliances such as braces and surgery are helpful. Measures that appear to help decrease the incidence of cerebral palsy include maternal immunization against rubella, maternal abstention from smoking and alcohol consumption, magnesium sulfate given in premature labor, treatment for Rh incompatibility (see blood groups), and treatment of hyperbilirubinemia (jaundice) in the newborn.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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