A Nationwide Birth Injury Resource

Signs and Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term for a range of movement disorders, so no two cases are exactly the same. These signs and symptoms usually become apparent during early childhood, although in more mild cases, a diagnosis may come later in life.

The earliest signs

Some signs of cerebral palsy can be observed within the first year of life. These include:

  • Baby feels "floppy" when picked up - a sign of low muscle tone
  • Baby is unable to hold his or her head up when sitting or lying face-down
  • Muscle spasms or stiffness
  • Poor reflexes, posture or muscle control
  • Difficulty feeding or swallowing
  • Seems to prefer one side of the body
  • Developmental delays - can't sit up or roll over independently by 6 months

Later warning signs

Less severe cases of cerebral palsy are often not diagnosed until the preschool years. Warning signs may include further developmental delays, such as not walking by 12 to 18 months and not speaking in simple sentences by 24 months. Problems with posture, balance or reflexes may also become more acute as the child grows.

Long-term symptoms

Again, every case of cerebral palsy is unique. The most common symptoms are muscle and movement issues such as poor coordination, stiff muscles, weakness and tremors. Depending on the severity, children with cerebral palsy may need to use a cane, wheeled walker or wheelchair. These muscle problems can also cause difficulty speaking, eating and swallowing.

Cerebral palsy is also associated with neurological and cognitive symptoms such as seizures and difficulties with thinking or reasoning. It can cause sensory problems, such as hearing or vision loss. A significant percentage of children with cerebral palsy also have learning disabilities or develop mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety.

Unfortunately, pain is a common symptom of cerebral palsy, as well. Children who have CP may experience painful muscle spasms. Pain management for cerebral palsy patients can be difficult, as different sources of pain respond to different treatments. Unsurprisingly, chronic pain can also lead to difficulty sleeping.

Because of this complex range of symptoms, caring for someone with cerebral palsy is a long-term ordeal that includes constant ongoing assessment. That's why it's important to create a comprehensive life care plan to see to a CP patient's long-term needs.