What are the Conditions Associated with Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder with both physical and cognitive components. Patients will require some form of care all their lives and will need to manage their lifestyle choices to accommodate their disabilities. Often, associated health conditions may crop up and pose a higher risk to the patient’s health than the cerebral palsy itself. Here’s a quick guide to what this means for your child with cerebral palsy.
Understanding cerebral palsy
Cerebral palsy refers to a group of neurological disorders that affect movement, muscle tone, coordination, and motor skills caused by damage or abnormalities in the developing brain. It has several subtypes depending on the location and severity of the brain damage. The condition has no cure, although the best cerebral palsy treatment goes a long way to manage the symptoms. Patients will typically experience a number of physical and intellectual impairments for which they will need regimented therapy and care.
Conditions associated with cerebral palsy
Almost all children with cerebral palsy will have at least one associated condition as well. The good news is that most of these conditions are completely manageable with the right treatment. Let’s take a closer look at what to expect.
Data from the CDC shows that about 35% of all children with cerebral palsy will experience seizures. These are caused by a misfiring of electrical activity in the brain and can take various forms, both mild and severe. Consult your doctor for the right medication to keep seizures under control.
In many children, the brain damage that causes cerebral palsy could also lead to vision problems. This can affect their ability to read and write, and also increase their risk of accidents. Parents should thus get their child’s vision checked at regular intervals.
The poor muscle control that children with cerebral palsy have often leads to dysphagia, or difficulties with swallowing. Symptoms could include regurgitation, heartburn, gagging, coughing when trying to swallow, food getting stuck in the throat, drooling, or unusual weight loss. Speech therapy can help improve the function of the swallowing muscles and control dysphagia.
Oral health issues
While cerebral palsy itself doesn’t cause oral deformities, it can lead to problems like gingivitis, involuntary cheek biting, excessive gagging, dental problems, and more. In fact, studies from the US National Institutes of Health indicate that the risk of dental disease goes up with increase in the severity of the neurological impairment. To combat this, it is important to take your child to a dentist at regular intervals and to assist them with proper dental hygiene.
A study published by the US National Institutes of Health showed that about 30% of children with cerebral palsy experienced respiratory complications. Poor control over muscles, difficulty in swallowing, excessive drooling, and the inability to cough can all lead to this. The respiratory conditions that children are at high risk for include asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and chronic lung disease.
Very often, children with cerebral palsy have trouble sleeping owing to their muscle pain and spasms, as well as conditions like drooling, respiratory distress, and epilepsy.
The child’s inability to keep themselves clean owing to mobility issues can lead to a variety of infections and skin conditions. Boils and pimples, skin ulcers, ringworm, staph infections, and bedsores are all common among children with limited mobility. Parents should thus take extra care to maintain good hygiene for the child.
A large fraction of children with cerebral palsy will have some form of cognitive impairment ranging from mild to severe. They may have trouble learning and remembering things, trouble with decision-making, inability to connect with others emotionally, and an increased tendency to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
About one in four children with cerebral palsy will exhibit some sort of behavioral and/or emotional problems. The severity of these will depend on the degree of physical and intellectual disability the child has. Behavioral issues could take the form of acting out in school, fighting with peers, depression, anger issues, or withdrawing from social activities. This can also be attributed to the frustration the child feels about their own impairments compared to the normal abilities of their peers.
Having cerebral palsy puts a child at greater risk for a variety of associated health conditions. However, with consistent monitoring of symptoms and the best cerebral palsy treatment, these conditions can be managed to a large degree. As a parent, stay vigilant of any signs of illness or distress in your child and consult a doctor immediately. The right treatment can mitigate or even cure the condition, improving your child’s overall wellbeing.