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Cerebral Palsy: Other Medical Problems

Topic Overview

The specific effects of cerebral palsy (CP) on a person depend on its type and severity, the level of mental impairment, and whether other health problems are present or other complications develop.

Other health problems

Health problems that may occur along with CP include:

  • Seizures. Many people with cerebral palsy have seizures, most commonly people with spastic hemiplegic CP (in which the arm and leg on the same side of the body are affected) and total body CP. Children with CP usually have their first seizure between the ages of 2 and 6 years.
  • Vision problems. People with cerebral palsy commonly have vision problems stemming from problems with the muscles that control their eye movements. The vision problems include strabismus, nystagmus, amblyopia, and being nearsighted.
  • Hearing loss. Hearing problems are common with cerebral palsy. They are more likely to occur in people whose CP was caused by viral infection (such as rubella) before birth or in people who have dyskinetic CP.
  • Speech problems. Some people with cerebral palsy may have difficulty speaking because of problems moving their tongues and vocal cords. They also may have problems expressing themselves with words and/or have problems reading.
  • Intellectual disability. This occurs in some people who have CP. It is most common in people who have total body CP, which affects the entire body to some degree, or in people who also have seizures. Sometimes the disability has a greater impact on a person's life than cerebral palsy. Mild degrees of intellectual disability or learning disabilities may be detected in individuals before the cerebral palsy is noticed.

Complications

Complications can also occur with CP, such as:

  • 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.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Louis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics
Last Revised September 20, 2012

Last Revised: September 20, 2012

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