Complications Of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a neurological disease that affects motor development and the musculoskeletal system, and there can sometimes be complications associated with it.

Intellectual and Developmental CP Complications

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), as many as half of all people with CP have some type of intellectual impairment. That risk is greater for those with spastic quadriplegia, the most severe type of cerebral palsy that impacts the entire body and often prohibits the person from being able to walk or speak clearly.

Additionally, statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that by the time a child with CP reaches 8 years old, he or she has approximately a 60 percent chance of being diagnosed with a developmental disability. The NINDS explains that these developmental delays are more apparent in cases of “moderate to severe CP.”

These types of complications make the treatment of CP more complex and may also require additional treatments. Furthermore, they may be either physical or cognitive in nature.

Physical Complications of Cerebral Palsy

When someone is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, other physical conditions may coexist. This includes:

  • Seizure Disorders. The CDC reports that 41 percent of children diagnosed with CP also have the seizure disorder epilepsy. The percentage is even higher for those with limitations related to walking or those who are unable to walk at all.
  • Hydrocephalus. Often referred to as “water on the brain,” this physical condition occurs when the flow of cerebrospinal fluid is blocked and accumulates in the skull. This can also cause seizures, vision difficulties (specifically, tunnel vision), and mental disabilities.
  • Vision and Hearing Difficulties. It is fairly common for individuals with cerebral palsy to experience hearing loss (either partially or in full) or have difficulties with their vision. The NINDS says that the one vision-related issue that appears the most with CP is strabismus, better knowns as “cross eyes.”
  • Oral Issues. CP can often come complications to oral health. These include overbites and underbites in addition to an increased risk of other dental issues. This is because of either inadequate oral care or as a result of taking seizure medications. Research has linked these meds to gum issues like gingival hyperplasia, which is when the gum cells multiply to the point where they partially or totally cover the teeth.

  • Skeletal Issues. Spinal deformities like scoliosis, humpback, and saddleback are often associated with CP. Osteoporosis is another skeletal issue of concern, primarily because of the pressure created from the various skeletal misalignments characteristic of cerebral palsy’s muscle contractions and spasticity.
  • Urological Issues. Incontinence, or involuntary urination, is another potential complication of CP. Additionally, individuals with CP often have more frequent urinary tract infections.
  • Digestive Issues. It’s not uncommon for individuals with CP to have digestive issues such as difficulty eating, sucking, or swallowing, which can lead to malnutrition. They can also cause aspiration of the foods or beverages into the lungs. Some people with CP experience constipation, vomiting, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and other similar issues.
  • Pain Issues. Pain can sometimes be a factor with CP, especially in the joints and back. In some instances it is acute, or short-lasting, and other times it can be chronic. According to the NINDS, pain is worse for individuals with spastic CP than non-spastic types.
  • Other Chronic Health Conditions. Unfortunately, individuals with CP often have other coexisting chronic health conditions, according to research conducted by the University of Michigan Health System. After studying 1,015 people with cerebral palsy, they found that:
    • 9.2 percent have diabetes
    • 20.7 have asthma
    • 30 percent have hypertension
    • 4.6 percent have strokes
    • 3.8 percent have emphysema
    • 43.6 percent have joint pain
    • 31.4 percent have arthritis

All of these percentages are higher than those experienced by people who don’t have CP.

Cognitive Complications of Cerebral Palsy

Some complications associated with CP are more cognitive (or brain-based). Here are two of the most common:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorders. According to the CDC, 6.9 percent of the children diagnosed with cerebral palsy are also diagnosed with some type of autism spectrum disorder. For children diagnosed with non-spastic CP specifically, the frequency was higher. This was especially true for those with hypotonic CP.
  • Speech and Language Issues. The NINDS says that one out of three individuals with CP have some level of difficulty speaking clearly. This can be especially frustrating to those with no intellectual impairment but who still have a difficult time forming words.
  • Depression. The NINDS explains that depression is 3-4 times higher for people with conditions like cerebral palsy. Unlike many of the physical complications, a person’s risk of depression is not as dependent on the severity of the disease, but on how well he or she is able to cope with the associated symptoms.

While many potential complications exist for those diagnosed with cerebral palsy, there are also many treatment options. The best treatment remedies are based on the type and severity of the CP, and the co-existing physical and cognitive issues.