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What Is the Most Common Disability Symptom of Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a form of disability that develops as a result of a fetus receiving a limited supply of oxygen during pregnancy, during labor and delivery, or immediately after birth. CP has a number of different symptoms and it can also have a number of permanent effects. For parents whose children have been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and for parents who have concerns about possible symptoms of CP, understanding its effects is important, and the best thing you can do is to consult with an experienced physician promptly.

Understanding the Three Main Disabilities Caused by Cerebral Palsy

As a type of cognitive disability, cerebral palsy can have a number of wide-ranging effects. In terms of the most common disability symptom, there are actually three main symptoms that are used to classify the different disorders that CP can cause. As explained by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “[d]octors classify CP according to the main type of movement disorder involved. Depending on which areas of the brain are affected, one or more . . . movement disorders can occur.” These potential movement disorders are:

  • Ataxia
  • Dyskinesia
  • Spasticity

What Is Ataxia?

Ataxia is a disability associated with cerebral palsy that is characterized by a lack of muscle control. In newborns, this can manifest in the form of uncoordinated movements, involuntary eye movements, and difficulty swallowing. It also may be accompanied by other effects such as lack of muscle tone and limited reflexive response. As children grow, ataxia can cause unsteadiness when attempting to walk, limited ability to perform fine motor tasks, and impaired speech.

What Is Dyskinesia?

Dyskinesia is a disability associated with cerebral palsy that is characterized by involuntary or uncontrollable movements. While ataxia is more likely to have broader disabling effects, dyskinesia, “can affect just one part of the body, like the head or an arm, or it can affect [a child’s] entire body. Dyskinesia can range from mild to severe and painful, and . . . can also differ in the frequency and the time of day that it occurs.” As identified by Healthline, general symptoms of dyskinesia in newborns and young children include wriggling or swaying of the body, bobbing of the head, twitching movements, and general restlessness.

The effects of dyskinesia resulting from cerebral palsy can be further broken down into three distinct types of involuntary movements: athetosis, chorea, and dystonia. The Cerebral Palsy Alliance Research Foundation (CPARF) has published an informative article that provides an in-depth description of the symptoms associated with each of these types of dyskinesia.

What Is Spasticity?

Spasticity is a disability associated with cerebral palsy that is characterized by muscle stiffness. As explained by Johns Hopkins Medicine, “[s]pasticity can affect muscles in any part of the body, but is most common in leg muscles. Symptoms can vary among individuals and can be painful, disfiguring, and disabling.” Similar to ataxia and dyskinesia, the effects of spasticity can develop over time, and symptoms will often become more pronounced and more debilitating as a child grows during his or her early years.

While spasticity most commonly affects the legs (referred to as spastic diplegia or diparesis), it can impact other parts of the body as well. Spastic hemiplegia or hemiparesis affects one side of the body and usually affects the arm more than the leg. Spastic quadriplegia or quadriparesis can affect the entire body. Spastic cerebral palsy is by far the most common form of cerebral palsy, with about 80 percent of children diagnosed with CP experiencing spasticity.

Identifying the Early Signs of Cerebral Palsy Caused by Birth Injuries Due to Medical Malpractice

Due to the fact that cerebral palsy results from a disruption in the flow of oxygen to a fetus’s or newborn baby’s brain, in many cases, it can be prevented with adequate medical care. Conversely, medical mistakes during pregnancy, labor, and delivery can cause CP, and in these cases, families may be entitled to financial compensation for medical malpractice.

According to the CDC, the following are all early warning signs of cerebral palsy. If your child is exhibiting these (or any other) possible symptoms of CP, you should see a doctor and consult with a malpractice attorney right away:

  • Stiffness in the legs, arms, or back
  • Lack of muscle strength and inability to lift or control the arms and legs
  • Not being able to roll over by about six months of age
  • Difficulty moving the arms or controlling the hands
  • Reaching with only one hand while keeping the other in a gripped or fist position

This list is not exhaustive, and parents who have concerns about cerebral palsy should have their child diagnosed by a physician who specializes in treating infants and young children with cerebral palsy and other cognitive disorders. There are a number of different ways that doctors can diagnose cerebral palsy; and, while there is currently no known cure for CP, obtaining an accurate diagnosis as early as possible will afford the greatest opportunity to minimize the lifelong effects for your child.

Diagnostic Methods for Identifying Cerebral Palsy and Distinguishing CP from Other Brain Injuries and Disorders

When a child exhibits symptoms that are consistent with cerebral palsy, it is important to obtain an accurate diagnosis that either confirms or disaffirms the child’s condition as CP. In addition to cerebral palsy, lack of oxygen (and other issues) can lead to various other brain injuries and developmental disorders as well, and an accurate diagnosis is crucial to obtaining appropriate treatment and therapy.

As outlined by the CDC, the three primary diagnostic techniques for determining whether a child has cerebral palsy are:

  • Developmental Monitoring – Developmental monitoring involves, “tracking a child’s growth and development over time,” in order to assess whether his or her symptoms remain indicative of cerebral palsy or are more closely aligned with some other type of cognitive disability. While doctors must necessarily rely on parents to provide information about their children’s development during this process, doctors also play an active role in guiding parents and using their expertise to ensure that developmental monitoring is effective.
  • Developmental Screening – Developmental screening involves conducting targeted tests to assess whether children are exhibiting symptoms of specific developmental delays. When there are concerns about cerebral palsy, these screening tests are generally continued through at least two and a half years of age.
  • Developmental and Medical Evaluations – In order to diagnose a child’s condition when there is a risk of cerebral palsy, doctors may also evaluate the child’s, “motor skills, muscle tone, reflexes, and posture, and take a careful medical history from the parents.” Based on these evaluations, x-rays, MRIs, genetic testing, and other forms of testing may be recommended as well.

Seeking Financial Compensation for Cerebral Palsy Resulting from Medical Malpractice During Pregnancy or Childbirth

Sadly, many children are diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a result of medical malpractice during pregnancy or childbirth. Like many types of birth injuries, CP results from brain damage caused by a disruption in the flow of oxygen to a fetus or newborn baby’s brain. While this disruption can happen suddenly and unavoidably in some circumstances, in today’s age of modern medicine, doctors have the tools they need to proactively diagnose and effectively ward off risks for oxygen deprivation in most cases.

With this in mind, if your child has been diagnosed with CP and is suffering from ataxia, dyskinesia, spasticity, or any of the myriad other effects that CP can cause, it is important that you discuss your family’s legal rights with a malpractice attorney who has specific experience handling cases involving cerebral palsy. The lifetime costs of treating CP can be overwhelming, and parents can recover compensation for their children’s pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of earning capacity, and other losses as well.

Additional Resources for Parents Who Have Questions about Cerebral Palsy

In addition to the resources linked above, there is a wealth of additional information available to parents who have questions about cerebral palsy. Of course, the best and most important source of information is your family’s physician. For more information about the long-term effects of CP and how it can result from mistakes during pregnancy, labor, and delivery, we encourage you to read:

  • When Is Cerebral Palsy Evidence of Medical Malpractice?Learn more about the types of medical mistakes that can lead to a cerebral palsy diagnosis, including mistakes made before, during, and after delivery. Learn about the statute of limitations for filing a cerebral palsy medical malpractice claim, and find out what to expect when you hire an attorney to seek just compensation on your family’s behalf.
  • Cerebral Palsy Symptoms and MalpracticeIn addition to the various symptoms listed above, children who have cerebral palsy can suffer from a broad range of other symptoms as well. Read this article to learn more about the symptoms of cerebral palsy in infants, and how children’s symptoms can develop through the age of three. This article also provides an introduction to the developmental delays that can become more apparent as children age.
  • Cerebral Palsy Treatment Options: FAQs – Various forms of treatment and therapy can be used to mitigate the effects of cerebral palsy in children of all ages. In this article, our attorneys discuss the use of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, drug therapy, sensory integration therapy, and surgical procedures to help treat and manage the symptoms of cerebral palsy.

Speak with a Trusted Local Attorney about Filing a Malpractice Claim for Cerebral Palsy

If you have questions about your family’s legal rights following a cerebral palsy diagnosis, we encourage you to speak with one of our injury attorneys. Your initial consultation is completely free, and if you have a claim, you will not pay any fees or costs unless we recover just compensation for your family. To schedule an appointment at a time that is convenient for you, call us directly or inquire online today.