Help for Georgia Families Struggling with Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common muscle and movement disorder in children in Georgia and throughout the United States. Most cases of CP are caused by damage to the parts of the brain that control movement, balance and posture. Because the underlying brain damage is permanent, there is no cure for cerebral palsy. Treatment and therapy can control the symptoms and allow children with CP to live healthy, meaningful lives.
Types of cerebral palsy
Cerebral palsy is not a single disorder but rather a group of closely related disorders. The general types of CP are:
- Spastic cerebral palsy
- Dyskinetic cerebral palsy
- Hypotonic cerebral palsy
- Ataxic cerebral palsy
- Mixed cerebral palsy
Each type of cerebral palsy varies greatly both in severity and extent - for example, some children may have trouble moving all four limbs, while others may only be impacted on one side of the body.
Symptoms of cerebral palsy
Cerebral palsy itself is a muscle and movement disorder. Depending on the type and severity of CP, symptoms can include:
- Poor muscle tone and "floppiness"
- Stiff muscles
- Problems walking, such as toe walking
- Involuntary movements
- Problems with reflexes and coordination
- Difficulty speaking
- Difficulty swallowing
- Irregular posture
Many children with CP also have seizures (epilepsy). Seizure management for people with cerebral palsy can be difficult because the seizures generally last longer in people who have epilepsy but not CP.
In addition, there are numerous co-occurring problems. Some develop physical health issues such as heart disease, gastrointestinal (GI) problems or osteoporosis. Communication disorders and mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety, are common, as well. Finally, many children with CP have learning disabilities.
Cerebral palsy doesn't get better or worse over time, but the symptoms may change as the child grows or develops. Typically, cerebral palsy is diagnosed between the age of six months and three years, although less severe cases may go undiagnosed for much longer.
Causes of cerebral palsy
Again, the underlying cause of most cases of cerebral palsy is abnormal brain development or damage to the developing brain. This most often occurs during pregnancy, during labor and delivery, or shortly after birth. Some common causes of cerebral palsy include:
- Oxygen deprivation during labor and delivery, which kills brain cells (hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy)
- Infections that spread to the membranes around the brain (meningitis)
- Untreated jaundice (hyperbilirubinemia) that leads to brain damage (kernicterus)
- Untreated low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), which deprives the developing brain of energy
- Traumatic injuries during labor and delivery
Most of these causes can be prevented with proper medical care during pregnancy, labor and delivery, and neonatal care. In addition, quick medical interventions, such as head cooling or whole-body cooling, can reduce brain damage when it does occur, potentially preventing cerebral palsy or reducing its severity.
Treatments, therapies and care for cerebral palsy
Cerebral palsy can't be cured, but it can be managed. Depending on the symptoms, treatments may include:
- Medication to control seizures or relax muscles
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Speech and language therapy
- Movement devices, such as braces, canes or wheeled walkers
- Communication devices
- In some cases, surgery to correct problems with muscles, bones or tendons
Some children with cerebral palsy will be able to live on their own with outpatient services. Others may need to live in an inpatient setting. In some cases, the lifetime cost of cerebral palsy can stretch into the tens of millions of dollars.
Legal options for families of cerebral palsy victims
While not every case of cerebral palsy is preventable, many happen because of preventable causes. Complications such as jaundice, hypoglycemia and hypoxia are well known to medical providers, and doctors are expected to follow standards of care during pregnancy, delivery and neonatal care to prevent those conditions from causing brain damage and cerebral palsy. When that doesn't happen, families have recourse under Georgia law.
A qualified birth injury attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options, which may include filing a lawsuit against a negligent medical provider. We recommend scheduling a free consultation with an attorney knowledgeable about the law in your state to discuss your options.