Types of cerebral palsy

There are generally considered to be three main types of cerebral palsy - spastic, dyskinetic (often known as athetoid or dystonic) and ataxic cerebral palsy. These describe effects on the body and muscle tone that are dependent upon which part of the brain has been affected. Many people with cerebral palsy will have a mixture of these types. The types of cerebral palsy include:

Spastic cerebral palsy 

Spastic cerebral palsy is the commonest form of cerebral palsy and affects the body's ability to relax muscles, spasticity refers to the muscle tone being unyielding and tight (hypertonia) with a decreased range of movement. The condition will often result from a prolonged partial deprivation of oxygen prior to delivery. Often the child will have severe learning disabilities and a reduced life expectancy as well. The child will probably have had fits (convulsions) as a newborn and the appearance of the injury will be evident on MRI scanning of the brain. 

Lack of oxygen to the brain during childbirth can result in cerebral palsy involving all four limbs known as quadriplegic cerebral palsy, with a generalised rigidity of muscular tone or spasticity. These children usually also have severe learning difficulties, epilepsy and related problems which are permanent and need extensive care. They will often have other special needs and a reduced life expectation.

Children with hemiplegia (spastic cerebral palsy but with damage to one side of the brain only) are less likely to have acquired their injury as a result of oxygen starvation at birth although there is a recognised association. With diplegia, (where the injury affects the lower limbs more than the upper or visa versa) they might have done if there is clear evidence of the child's distress prior to and after birth.

Dyskinetic, Athetoid or dystonic cerebral palsy

Children who have suffered a short but acute deprivation of oxygen before delivery might acquire dyskinetic cerebral palsy. Dyskinetic cerebral palsy can also be referred to as athetoid, dystonic or choreoathetoid. People with athetoid cerebral palsy will tend to make unintended movements, sometimes writhing in appearance and will have some loss of control over posture. Often such a child will have a severe physical disability (caused by damage to the brain's basal ganglia the deep grey matter) but with a preserved intelligence and comprehension. Fitting might not have taken place or might have been much less pronounced at and after birth. Life expectancy can be near normal. Again damage can be seen on MRI scanning.

Ataxic cerebral palsy

People with ataxic cerebral palsy caused by birth injury might have more subtle symptoms often associated with problems of balance, speech and perhaps shaky hand movements. 


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