What Are the Different Types of Cerebral Palsy?


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Cerebral palsy is a medical condition that, in many cases, is caused by a lack of sufficient oxygen to a baby’s brain that occurs either prenatally or during labor or childbirth. In many instances, a child may develop cerebral palsy due to complications at birth, and there is no medical negligence involved.

In other cases, however, cerebral palsy is the direct result of a preventable medical error. When a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional makes a mistake in the management of a mother’s prenatal care, labor or delivery, it can result in significant birth injuries to her baby, including cerebral palsy. Unfortunately, the impact of cerebral palsy on a family can be devastating, and its consequences are lifelong and permanent.

What Is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a group of neurological disorders that affect posture, muscle coordination, and body movement. It is associated with brain injury or abnormal brain development. Cerebral palsy is a common cause of ongoing disability in children. It can cause muscle stiffness or weakness, uncontrollable and involuntary movements or reflexes of the arms and legs, and may affect one or both sides of a child’s body. The symptoms of cerebral palsy have a wide range, from relatively mild to severely disabling. In many children, cerebral palsy may be accompanied by seizures, malnutrition and feeding issues, impaired vision, hearing loss, difficulty speaking, incontinence, growth delays, physical deformities, and intellectual and developmental disabilities.

What Are the Causes of Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy, CP, is the result of an injury to the developing brain that can occur during pregnancy, in labor and delivery, or shortly after birth. Causes of cerebral palsy include:

  • Complications due to premature birth
  • Hypoxia – insufficient oxygen to the brain
  • Asphyxia – insufficient oxygen to the body
  • Traumatic birth
  • Severe brain injury
  • Serious infections affecting the brain (for example, meningitis)
  • Genetic disorders that affect brain development

What Are the Different Types of Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy comes in many forms, depending on the areas of the brain that have been damaged, the number of limbs affected, and the types of body movements involved.

Spastic Cerebral Palsy

Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type. Children who develop spastic CP have increased muscle tone or tightness in various parts of the body that they are unable to relax. The joints that are affected typically become stiff and difficult to move. Over time, the child may develop contractures, or permanent tightening of the muscles or joints. The child may have poor coordination and balance, uncontrollable movements, and problems eating and speaking.

Spastic cerebral palsy is further classified based on how many limbs are affected.  The most common forms are:

  • Spastic hemiplegia – involves both the arm and the leg on one side of the body (left or right). This is the most common type of spastic CP.
  • Spastic diplegia – involves two limbs, typically the muscles of the legs, hips, and pelvis, more than the arms.
  • Spastic quadriplegia – involves all four limbs (both arms and both legs). Typically, the muscles that control the windpipe, mouth, and tongue are also affected, leading to difficulty eating and slow/slurred speech. This is the most severe and disabling form of CP.

Non-spastic Cerebral Palsy

Non-spastic cerebral palsy includes both dyskinetic and ataxic CP.

Dyskinetic or athetoid cerebral palsy is when a child’s muscle tone alternates between being tight and loose, resulting in abnormal posturing and involuntary movements. These children can have quick and jerky, slow and continuous, or twisting body movements involving the neck, face, feet, hands, legs, arms, and torso that they can’t control.

Ataxic cerebral palsy is the least common type of CP. It involves the entire body. Children with ataxic CP often have problems with balance, coordination, precise body movements, hand (fine motor) control, decreased (floppy) muscle tone, and tremors.

Mixed Cerebral Palsy

Some children develop more than one type of cerebral palsy due to a birth injury involving multiple areas of the brain, resulting in a mixed type CP. For example, their legs may be spastic (spastic diplegic CP), and they may also have difficulty controlling the muscles of their face (dyskinetic CP).

Total Body Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is considered total body CP when it affects all body parts at some level. When the whole body is involved, medical complications are much more likely to develop. Total body CP can include spastic quadriplegic, dyskinetic and ataxic cerebral palsy.

Getting Legal Help for Your Cerebral Palsy Case

Caring for a child who is affected by cerebral palsy is challenging – emotionally, physically, and financially. More often than not, they require a lifetime of support, supervision, and care. That level of care not only can take a toll on the emotional well-being of parents and caregivers, but the financial demands of frequent medical bills and out-of-pocket expenses can be overwhelming. If your child’s cerebral palsy resulted from medical negligence or malpractice, a lawsuit can be filed to hold accountable those who are responsible, providing much-needed financial compensation to the family.

If you believe that your child’s cerebral palsy may be the result of a birth injury caused by medical negligence, you need to consult an experienced birth injury attorney. At Ross Feller Casey, our attorneys have an unmatched record in the successful litigation of birth injury cases.

Our cerebral palsy cases are all handled on a contingency basis, meaning there is no cost to you unless and until a financial recovery is obtained in your case. And the initial consultation and case evaluation are free, too.

Contact us today so we can help you determine if you have a case.

About the Author

Jennifer L. Russell devotes her practice primarily to representing those catastrophically injured by medical negligence, particularly in cases involving obstetrical and neonatal malpractice and birth injuries.

Jennifer Russell

Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.