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Health A-Z

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Symptoms

The symptoms of cerebral palsy may be mild, like some clumsiness, or more serious, like not being able to move at all. Every child with cerebral palsy is different.

Early symptoms of cerebral palsy may include:

  • Difficulty feeding Children with cerebral palsy may have trouble coordinating sucking and swallowing.

  • Delays in the appearance of normal motor milestones For example, children with cerebral palsy may not sit, crawl or walk at the age they would normally be expected to.

  • Floppiness or stiffness Some children with cerebral palsy have low muscle tone, making it hard for them to do things like hold their head up or sit straight. Others have increased muscle tone, making their arms and legs stiff. The stiff muscles may first appear as "scissoring" of the legs in infancy.

  • Trouble coordinating movements Children with cerebral palsy may seem very clumsy, or have difficulty getting their arms and legs to do what they want them to.

Other symptoms depend on the type of cerebral palsy. They include:

  • Spastic cerebral palsy This is the most common type of cerebral palsy, in which the affected limbs are spastic, meaning they are stiff and resist being stretched or bent. The person usually has these symptoms both when awake and asleep.

  • Dyskinetic or athetoid cerebral palsy This less-common form of cerebral palsy is characterized by involuntary movements of the face, trunk and limbs that often interfere with speaking and feeding. Symptoms may worsen during times of emotional stress and typically go away during sleep. Movements can be rapid and jerky (chorea) or writhing (athetosis) or can involve staying in an abnormal position (dystonia).

  • Ataxic cerebral palsy This type of cerebral palsy also is uncommon and usually involves a brain injury in the part of the brain responsible for coordination (called the cerebellum). Characteristic symptoms include wobbling of the trunk, trouble keeping limbs steady and abnormal eye movements.

  • Mixed A combination of symptoms from at least two of the above subtypes.

All forms of cerebral palsy can have associated problems, including:

  • Mental retardation

  • Seizures and other disorders of the nervous system

  • Vision or hearing problems

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