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Cerebral Palsy: What to know


Cerebral palsy is a movement disorder caused by abnormal developments or brain damage before, during, or after a baby’s birth.  Cerebral palsy affects movement, posture and muscle tone, reflex and balance. It causes abnormal reflexes, floppiness or rigidity of the limbs and trunk, involuntary movements, unsteady walking, or some combination of these. People with Cerebral Palsy (CP) could have issues with speaking and swallowing.

There are more than 100,000 cases of Cerebral Palsy in Nigeria with most affected individuals in need of care due to CP’s effect on functional abilities. Though symptoms and severity differs for individuals, most affected with the condition go on to live fulfilling lives.

CP is mostly congenital but it could also be acquired during infancy.


CP affects coordination and movement, though the signs and symptoms may vary but the most common signs of cerebral palsy include

Problems with movement on one side of body

Stiff muscles

Exaggerated or jerky reflexes

Involuntary movements or tremors

Lack of coordination and balance


Problems swallowing or sucking

Difficulty with speech (dysarthria)


Contractures (shortening of muscles)

Delayed motor skill development


Gastrointestinal problems



The common causes of CP include:

Mutations in genes that lead to abnormal brain development

Maternal infections that affect the developing fetus

Bacterial and viral infections that affect the brain

Bleeding in the brain (hemorrhaging)

A lack of oxygen to the brain before, during or after birth (asphyxia)

Prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol, mercury poisoning from fish and toxoplasmosis from raw/undercooked meat

Head injuries sustained during birth or in the first few years of infancy



Most cases of cerebral palsy can’t be prevented, but steps can be taken to reduce the risks. The best shot to some measure of prevention is for women to avoid pregnancy complication.

Ensure you are vaccinated. Vaccination against diseases such as rubella may prevent an infection that could cause fetal brain damage.

Stay healthy. The healthier you are heading into a pregnancy, the less likely you’ll be to develop an infection that may result in cerebral palsy.

Early and continuous prenatal care. Regular visits to your doctor during your pregnancy are a good way to reduce health risks to you and your unborn baby. Seeing your doctor regularly can help prevent premature birth, low birth weight and infections.

Prevent head injuries by providing your child with a car seat, bicycle helmet, safety rails on beds and appropriate supervision.


Cerebral palsy is incurable, as the damage to the brain cannot be fixed. However, treatment and therapy can help manage its effect on the body. Surgery, medications and assistive technology can also help maximize independence, increase inclusion and thus lead to an enhanced quality of life.

In this article:
Cerebral palsy
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