What Are the Symptoms and Types of Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a disorder that affects your movement and muscle tone. The condition, also called CP, is caused by problems in the brain.

CP breaks down into four main types, based on the movement involved:

  • Spastic cerebral palsy
  • Dyskinetic cerebral palsy
  • Ataxic cerebral palsy
  • Mixed cerebral palsy

Spastic Cerebral Palsy

The most common kind is spastic CP. If you have it, your muscles are stiff or tight, or they spasm.

Doctors break down spastic CP into three groups:

  • Spastic diplegia mostly involves muscle stiffness in the legs. If you have this type, tight muscles in your legs and hips might cause trouble walking because your legs turn in at the knees. This is also called “scissoring.”
  • Spastic hemiplegia means one side of your body is affected. Your arm and leg on that side may be shorter and thinner, which might cause you to walk on your tiptoes. Some people with this type have a curved spine, called scoliosis. Seizures and speech problems can also be part of spastic hemiplegia.
  • Spastic quadriplegia means all of your limbs are affected, as well as your torso and your face. You may also have seizures and trouble speaking if you have this type of CP. It’s the most serious kind of spastic CP.

Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy

If you have dyskinetic CP, your muscle tone might be too tight or too loose. Your movements are uncontrolled: either slow and twisting or quick and jerky. If the muscles in your face or mouth are affected, you might frown, drool and have trouble speaking.

Dyskinetic CP breaks down further into these types:

  • Athetoid. Movements are writhing, slow, and curvy.
  • Choreoathetoid. Movements are aimless and not controlled.
  • Dystonic. Muscle tone is not normal.

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Ataxic CP, which is rare, causes problems with coordination and balance. If you have it, you might be unsteady when you walk. You might also shake, which could make it hard to do tasks that need steadiness, such as writing.

Mixed Cerebral Palsy

People with this type of CP have symptoms of more than one type. Most people with mixed CP have a combination of spastic and dyskinetic.

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Symptoms

The biggest clue that your baby might have cerebral palsy is a delay in doing something most babies can do at a certain age. Doctors call these “milestones.” Examples include rolling over, sitting up, standing and walking.

Certain movements and behaviors in babies at specific stages of development can be signs of CP. But your baby can have these issues without having CP. So you’ll need to see a doctor to find out what’s going on. In babies younger than 6 months, those signs include:

  • When you pick your baby up from sleeping (on the back), his head falls backward.
  • He feels stiff or floppy.
  • When cradled in your arms, he extends his back and neck, almost as if pushing away from you.
  • When you pick him up, his legs get stiff and cross over each other (“scissor”).

If your baby is older than 6 months, warning signs can include:

  • He can’t roll over.
  • He can’t bring his hands together.
  • He has trouble bringing his hands to his mouth.
  • When he reaches, it’s with only one hand. The other stays in a fist.

If your baby is older than 10 months, watch for these signs:

  • He crawls by pushing off with one hand and one leg while dragging the other side of his body.
  • He doesn’t crawl on all fours but scoots instead, or he hops on his knees.

If your baby is more than 1 year old and can’t stand without support or crawl, those are also possible signs of CP.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on March 26, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Pediatrics: Cerebral Palsy.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Cerebral Palsy.

CDC: Cerebral Palsy (CP).

March of Dimes: Cerebral Palsy.

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