Information for the public

What is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy mainly affects how the brain controls muscles and movement. Sometimes it can also affect other ways the brain works, such as how we see, hear, communicate, feel, understand and think. Cerebral palsy is caused when a problem occurs in the development of a baby's brain before, during or soon after they are born. The brain can't send messages to different parts of the body properly, and this causes problems with things like balance, movement and coordination, talking, chewing and swallowing. Everyone with cerebral palsy is affected differently – symptoms vary widely and the effects can range from minor problems to severe disability. Around 1 in 3 children with cerebral palsy have epilepsy (see where can I find out more?).

Although there is no cure for cerebral palsy, the problem in the brain that causes it does not get worse over time. But as a child grows and develops, the effects of cerebral palsy may change over time. Treatment and support can be given to help children and young people cope with their symptoms and become as independent as possible.

Types of cerebral palsy

There are different types of cerebral palsy depending on how movement and muscles are affected. The most common is called spastic cerebral palsy, where the muscles are stiff and movements can seem jerky. Less common types, such as dyskinetic (dystonic) or ataxic cerebral palsy, lead to problems with the control of movement or balance. Mixed cerebral palsy is a combination of other types. Your child's doctor should explain more about the type your child has.

Causes of cerebral palsy

Some common causes of cerebral palsy are:

  • a problem in the way the brain develops in an unborn baby

  • an infection in the baby before or shortly after birth

  • a difficult or early (preterm) birth.

See where can I find out more? if you would like to know more about cerebral palsy.

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