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Complications of Cerebral Palsy

Complications of cerebral palsy (CP) may include:

  • Joint problems. Permanently stiff joints (contractures) and dislocated hips may develop. In addition, some preteens, teens, and young adults develop abnormal curves in the spine (scoliosis).
  • Bowel and bladder problems. Stools may become hard and difficult to pass and may cause pain. Bladder problems may lead to bed-wetting or daytime incontinence.
  • Choking. People with CP may cough, gag, and choke when eating. They may inhale food into their lungs, which can cause pneumonia. People with total body cerebral palsy are most prone to gagging and choking.
  • Acid reflux (GERD). Stomach acid washing back into the esophagus (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD) can cause pain, irritation, and bleeding.
  • Slowed growth. Growth problems may be caused by poor nutrition or by damage to certain parts of the brain: babies with CP may not gain weight at the same rate as other babies their age, young children with CP may be shorter than average, teens' sexual development may be slower than normal. Other growth problems may also occur, such as muscles tightening around the long bones of a leg. This can result in one shorter leg, which makes walking difficult.
  • Early death. Cerebral palsy may cause complications that result in an early death. For example, adults with severe forms of CP, such as spastic quadriplegia, may not live past the age of 40.1


  1. Pellegrino L (2007). Cerebral palsy. In ML Batshaw et al., eds., Children With Disabilities, 6th ed., pp. 387-408. Baltimore: Paul H. Brooks Publishing.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Louis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics
Last Revised September 30, 2010

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 30, 2010
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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