​Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a type of neurological disorder (that is, a disorder relating to the brain) that develops before birth or in children under the age of five. Cerebral palsy amongst children is a consequence of brain damage, during their formative years. Majority of children suffering from cerebral palsy are born with it. This could happen while still in the womb due to the mother’s poor health or injury while pregnant. It could also happen at birth, for instance, due to premature and underweight birth, complications during labour, severe jaundice at birth, or oxygen deprivation and trauma during labour and delivery. It could also happen during the first few months or years of a child’s life, for instance, due to an accident, injury, brain infections (such as meningitis) or child abuse.

In a child suffering from cerebral palsy, the part of the brain that controls muscle movements has developmental abnormalities. This is why these children have problems with body movement, muscle coordination and control, posture, balance and motor skills, and they may not be able to perform simple tasks such as sitting, grasping objects or walking. However, the extent of the symptoms differs on a case to case basis.

There are three types of cerebral palsy:

  • Spastic cerebral palsy which causes stiffness and movement difficulties

  • Athetoid cerebral palsy which leads to involuntary and uncontrolled movements

  • Ataxic cerebral palsy which causes problems with balance and depth perception

The disease is permanent but non-progressive, meaning that it does not get worse over time. It is also not life threatening.

If you believe that you or your child may be suffering from cerebral palsy, you can look out for the following symptoms:

  • Exaggerated reflexes, like knee-jerk (known as spasticity)

  • Stiff muscles (known as rigidity)

  • Lack of muscle coordination (known as ataxia)

  • Involuntary movements

  • Slow movements (known as athetosis)

  • Delays in developing motor skills such as crawling, sitting up or standing

  • Dragging a leg while crawling or walking

  • Excessive drooling

  • Difficulty swallowing and eating

  • Speech impairment or difficulty speaking

  • Difficulty with vision and hearing

  • Intellectual disabilities

  • Seizures

  • Psychiatric conditions (including attention deficit disorder)

  • Urinary incontinence (being unable to control your bladder)

As mentioned earlier the symptoms may differ on a case to case basis. Some children may have partial skills’ impairment and may need limited assistance with their daily functions, whereas others may have very advanced stage cerebral palsy and will be entirely dependent on others’ assistance.​

If you have had a complicated labour, problem during pregnancy or childbirth or your child exhibits any of the above symptoms, you should get him/her diagnosed for cerebral palsy. The earlier that the disease is diagnosed, the better it is for the child as therapy and care received at an early age will help him/her lead a more fulfilling and normal life. You can obtain additional information and expert medical advice from the Mind and Brain Service Line​ at The Aga Khan University Hospital.
Your time with your doctor may be limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here​ are some tips to help get you started.

In order to confirm the diagnosis of cerebral palsy, your doctor may order the following tests:

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): this test uses radio waves and a magnetic field to produce detailed 3-dimensional images of the brain. Using this, your doctor will be able to identify any abnormalities in your child's brain which may be causing the symptoms. It is a painless, non-invasive procedure and takes around an hour to complete.

  • Cranial Ultrasound: This test uses high frequency sound waves to obtain images of your child’s brain. It’s a quick and inexpensive method, and can be used to provide an initial assessment of the brain.

  • Computerized Tomography (CT) scan: X-rays will be used to obtain cross-sectional images of your child's brain, in order to identify abnormalities.

  • Electroencephalogram (EEG): This test may be ordered if there is a history of seizures, and to ensure that the cause is not epilepsy, which is common in many cases of cerebral palsy. In this test, a series of wires with electrodes will be fixed onto your child's scalp in order to monitor brain activity.

Other tests may also be conducted to check for:

  • Vision impairment

  • Hearing impairment

  • Speech impairments

  • Intellectual disabilities

  • Movement disorders ​

There is no cure for cerebral palsy, but with the right therapy and management, your child can have a much better quality of life.

Several different options are available to enhance your child’s comfort. Your primary child neurologist will deal with your child’s routine health. A team of professionals such as therapists, psychologists, educators and nurses can teach him/her to perform basic functions, improve speech, posture, motor skills etc. A special education teacher can help deal with learning disabilities. A physical therapist can help to improve muscle control. Your child may also receive medication for treating symptoms such as seizures, muscle pain and spasms or physical aids such as hearing aid, walker etc. In some cases, doctors may recommend surgery to correct vision impairment or other physical abnormalities. Again, early diagnosis and therapy is crucial in ensuring that your child receives the best possible care and future quality of life.
The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.
The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.
The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments’ costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.
Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.