Cerebral palsy (CP) is a lifelong, non-progressive neurological condition affecting a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. It’s the most common diagnosis causing motor disability in childhood. But what causes CP?

  1. What is cerebral palsy? 
  2. Typically symptoms of cerebral palsy 
  3. What causes cerebral palsy? 
  4. Is Cerebral Palsy genetic?  
  5. Can cerebral palsy be prevented? 

What is cerebral palsy? 

Cerebral palsy is the most common diagnosis causing motor disability in childhood. It is a lifelong, non-progressive neurological condition affecting the child’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. The movement disorder is categorized as spastic, dyskinetic, ataxic or mixed, where spastic cerebral palsy occurs in 80% of the cases. 

CP spastic, dyskinetic, ataxic or mixed

Typically symptoms of cerebral palsy 

The symptoms of cerebral palsy can vary greatly from person to person, depending on the brain damage. Some may only have small symptoms like a weak hand affecting the ability to write and handle objects, while others may have symptoms affecting the whole body and all functions. This person will depend on 24-hours care management.    

Read also: Why 24-hour posture care management is key

What causes cerebral palsy?  

CP is caused by an abnormal development of the brain or damage to the developing brain before the age of 2 years. About 2 children out of every 1,000 has CP. CP usually arises from a sequence of events that can cause injury to the developing brain. 

Prematurity is the highest risk factor for CP, but it is not necessarily the premature birth itself that causes the disease, but rather a consequence of events that leads to the premature birth that may result in a CP diagnosis. This can be events happening in the uterus during pregnancy. 

The specific cause of CP is in most children unknown, but known risk factors that may increase the likelihood of a child being born with CP are: 

  • Premature birth – children born before the 37th week of pregnancy  
  • Low birth weight – this can be children born at term with low birthweight or a combination of premature birth and low birth weight 
  • Being born a twin or other multiple births 
  • Thrombophilia 
  • Little oxygen and nutrients to the fetus from the placenta  
  • Infections or toxic exposures of the mother during pregnancy – this can be different types of viruses, rubella, toxoplasmosis, toxins etc. 
  • Prolonged loss of oxygen during birth 
  • Severe jaundice shortly after birth   

Is cerebral palsy genetic? 

From time-to-time parents question if cerebral palsy can be genetic. This is a good question. Latest research demonstrates that this may be the case. Scientists have identified mutations in genes that can be responsible for some cases of cerebral palsy. This is not genes inherited from parents but mutations that occur randomly. Further research is needed and is ongoing, and it will give us more insights on this topic in the future.   

Can cerebral palsy be prevented? 

In most cases, it is not known what exactly has caused cerebral palsy, other than that an injury has occurred in the developing brain. Injuries that occur to the brain during fetal life are usually not something that the pregnant woman are aware of or can prevent from happening. But you can in general reduce some risk factors before you get pregnant and during pregnancy by: 

  • Making sure you are vaccinated against known diseases, such as rubella. 
  • Taking good care of yourself during pregnancy and avoid alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs. 
  • Following prenatal care and seek professional help if you experience abnormal changes during pregnancy. 

What is CP

  • Hollung SJ, Vik T, Lydersen S, Bakken IJ, Andersen GL. Decreasing prevalence and severity of cerebral palsy in Norway among children born 1999 to 2010 concomitant with improvements in perinatal health. European Journal of Paediatric Neurology. 2018. 
  • McIntyre S, Morgan C, Walker K, Novak I. Cerebral Palsy—Don't Delay. Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews. 2011;17(2):114-29. 
  • Tollånes MC, Wilcox AJ, Lie RT, Moster D. Familial risk of cerebral palsy: population based cohort study. BMJ : British Medical Journal. 2014;349:g4294. 
  • Novak I, Morgan C, Fahey M, Finch-Edmondson M, Galea C, Hines A, Langdon K, Namara MM, Paton MC, Popat H, Shore B, Khamis A, Stanton E, Finemore OP, Tricks A, Te Velde A, Dark L, Morton N, Badawi N. State of the Evidence Traffic Lights 2019: Systematic Review of Interventions for Preventing and Treating Children with Cerebral Palsy. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep. 2020 Feb 21;20(2):3.  
  • Centers fordiseasecontrolandprevention.
  • Jin, S.C., Lewis, S.A., Bakhtiari, S. et al. Mutations disrupting neuritogenesis genes confer risk for cerebral palsy. Nat Genet 52, 1046–1056 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41588-020-0695-1 
Rikke Damkjær Moen - Physiotherapist and Medical Manager

Rikke Damkjær Moen - Physiotherapist and Medical Manager

Rikke Damkjær Moen brings many years of experience as clinical physiotherapist to the Made for Movement team. Her mission is to ensure that everybody, regardless of mobility problems, should be able to experience the joy and health benefits of physical activity. As our Medical Manager, Rikke is passionate about sharing knowledge so that individuals with special needs, families, and clinicians can discover the possibilities and solutions provided by Made for Movement.