Cerebral palsy types
Cerebral Palsy is an ‘umbrella term’, meaning it covers more than one form of condition. All forms of Cerebral Palsy are caused by abnormal development or damage to the brain. In the majority of cases this damage/abnormal development is prenatal, and the causes are generally unknown. Other causes of this brain damage include birth trauma, particularly in cases where an infant’s brain becomes starved of oxygen, and infection (namely, meningitis).
This may lead you to wonder why, if it is brain damage, it isn’t just called brain damage. Cerebral Palsy is a condition that a child grows up with from infancy, they will not have any experience of a time when their body behaved in a physically ‘normal’ way, and that makes learning to move and control muscles harder. Someone with brain damage is re-learning how to move, and for that reason the treatment process is different, hence the differential terminology. This is why you can’t ‘get’ Cerebral Palsy once you stop being an infant.
The name ‘Cerebral Palsy’ comes from the Latin words ‘Cerebrum’ and ‘Paralysis’, a literal translation being ‘brain paralyses’.
What increases the chances of Cerebral Palsy?
The risk of the condition is greater in ‘higher risk’ pregnancies generally – if you are pregnant with multiple children then it increases the chance of the disorder. If your child is born prematurely or with a low birth weight then this can also increase the risk, as can infections during pregnancy and having a ‘short cervix’.
We get a lot of people asking if Cerebral Palsy is genetic. The short answer is ‘no, not really’. The longer answer is probably ‘a bit’; the only reason we have to link Cerebral Palsy with genetics are that some of the risk factors are known to be genetic. So if you are genetically predisposed towards having a short cervix or if twins ‘run in the family’ then you are statistically more likely to have a child with Cerebral Palsy, but there is no evidence to suggest that the disorder itself is genetic.
What are the different types of Cerebral Palsy?
There are three types of Cerebral Palsy, not including ‘mixed Cerebral Palsy’ which is a mixture of different types. They are called ‘Spastic Cerebral Palsy’, Ataxic Cerebral Palsy, and Athetoid Cerebral Palsy.
Spastic Cerebral Palsy
By far and away the most common form of Cerebral Palsy is ‘Spastic Cerebral Palsy’ which appears in around 75% of cases. This is where the part of the brain controlling muscle tone doesn’t work properly, leading to very tight muscles and stiff, jerky movements.
Spastic Cerebral Palsy can also be sub-divided by the extent to which the body is affected:
Hemiplegia means that both the arm and leg one side of the body are affected.
Diplegia means that both legs are affected.
Quadraplegia means that legs and arms are all affected to some degree
The word ‘spastic’ comes from the Greek word ‘spastkosis’, meaning to ‘draw in’ or ‘tug’, a description of the way in which the condition affects the muscles; it is a medical term that was sadly hijacked in the 80’s to be used as a derogatory insult, something that CerebralPalsy.Org have zero tolerance for.
Ataxic Cerebral Palsy
Ataxic Cerebral Palsy is defined as damage specifically to the cerebellum, a part of the brain located at the top of the spinal column. The cerebellum deals with balance and coordination, and people with ataxic cerebral palsy will often have issues with fine motor skills and tremors – it can also affect muscle tone.
Ataxic Cerebral Palsy is widely considered to be the least debilitating form of CP; it is typically congenital (i.e. caused by developmental problems), but in some cases it can be caused by infections (mainly meningitis) or head trauma. It is also considered the least common form of Cerebral Palsy, affecting approximately 5% of cases.
Athetoid Cerebral Palsy
Athetoid Cerebral Palsy also goes by the names ‘dyskinetic cerebral palsy’ and ‘dystonic Cerebral Palsy, and it accounts for around 20% of Cerebral Palsy cases.
Athetoid CP is primarily caused by legions forming during brain development and can be sub-grouped into two categories: Choreoathetoid Dyskinetic CP and Dyskinetic CP.
Choreoathetoid Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy is characterised by involuntary movements – the ‘chorea’ meaning irregular contractions, and the ‘athetosis’ referring to involuntary twisting movements.
Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy is characterised by repetitive muscle contractions and/or abnormal fixed postures, a form which can cause a lot of pain via muscular cramps and relentless muscle spasms.
Cerebral Palsy Causes
Cerebral Palsy is an umbrella term for a range of different neurological disorders – that mean’s it isn’t an illness, and nor is it a progressive disorder (meaning it will not get worse in time, though the symptoms might).
There are a range of different causes of Cerebral Palsy;
Cerebral palsy is a word that we often hear but many fail to understand. People think cerebral palsy or CP as it is often called is a mental disorder or a birth injury and it is understandable why they think that way. Perhaps we should look at the name for clues. cerebral which means ‘of the brain’ and palsy which means ‘paralysis'.
Cerebral palsy is a condition brought about following an injury to the brain and that covers the time a baby is in the womb as a neonate, during birth and the following two years, although experts cannot agree exactly how long this period extends.
If the part of the brain responsible for the control of body movement senses, co-ordination and muscle tone is harmed it may result in the child developing a range of tell-tale symptoms of cerebral palsy
There are three types of cerebral palsy:
Spastic cerebral palsy
This is the most common form of cerebral palsy which appears in around 75% of cases.
The most notable symptoms of spastic cerebral palsy are rigid limbs although the amount does very from case to case. Movements tend to be stiff and jerky and as the condition becomes mature muscles may become shortened. The child may suffer from learning disabilities
Spastic cerebral palsy can also be sub-divided by the extent to which the body is affected:
Hemiplegia means that both the arms and legs of one side only are affected.
Diplegia means that both legs are affected however arms are not necessarily affected or only mildly.
Quadraplegia means that legs and arms are affected and may be in varying levels
Athetoid cerebral palsy
This condition also known as dyskinetic cerebral palsy or dystonic cerebral palsy and present in around 20% of cases
The most notable symptoms are unintended movements, wriggle and writhe.
Sufferers of this type of CP have good intelligence and understanding.
Ataxic cerebral palsy
This is the least common type of cerebral palsy with approximately 5% of overall cases.
It would probably be fair to suggest that people suffering from ataxic cerebral palsy have less obvious symptoms than the other two. Symptoms include difficulty with balance, spatial awareness and have shaky and unsteady movement
Mixed cerebral palsy
Many people are affected by more than one type of cerebral palsy and the symptoms affect sufferers to varying degrees.
Cerebral palsy causes
The onset of cerebral palsy is due to baby's developing brain suffering injury or malformation. Expert opinion suggest the most likely time for this to occur is the latter part of pregnancy, during birth or up to the age of two.
It may be there is no obvious single cause but there are four types of damage to baby's brain that cause the condition.
Infection during pregnancy
Lack of oxygen to the brain
See Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy
Abnormal brain development
A genetic link
Some people may find our information on making a legal claim useful.
Additional risk factors
Factors that increase the risk of CP include:
Difficult or premature births
Twins or Multiple births
Mother’s age, below 20 or over 40
Fathers age, under 20 years
Baby's birth weight, below than 2.5 pounds
Premature birth, less than 37 weeks
The combination of any two or more risk factors enhance the probability of cerebral palsy.
Information on this page about cerebral palsy is intended to provide an easily digestible overview of the condition and not considered as expert medical advice
Common conditions associated with cerebral palsy
No two children or adults with cerebral palsy
have identical conditions, but here is a sample
of the most common.