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Health A-Z

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Harvard Medical School

What Is It?

Cerebral palsy is the name given to a large group of disorders that affect muscles and movement. These disorders begin early in life and result from brain injuries or problems with brain development before birth. Although the specific brain injury or problem causing cerebral palsy does not worsen, the movement problems can vary over time.

Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the parts of the brain that control muscles and movement. There are many possible ways that the brain can be damaged, including problems during pregnancy, infection, stroke, genetic problems, lack of oxygen, severe jaundice or diseases that cause the brain to develop abnormally.

Cerebral palsy can also occur after birth, such as when there is an infection of the brain or a head injury.

There are four basic types of cerebral palsy:

  • Spastic Stiff, difficult movement

  • Dyskinetic or athetoid Involuntary and uncontrolled movement

  • Ataxic Poor coordination and balance

  • Mixed Combination of these types

According to the United Cerebral Palsy Association, 8,000 infants and 1,200 to 1,500 preschoolers are diagnosed with cerebral palsy every year.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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