A human brain with with a close-up of nerve cells

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common motor disability in childhood, affecting your brain (cerebral) and how you use your muscles (palsy). 

Children with cerebral palsy have problems with muscle tone, which affects their:

  • Balance 
  • Posture
  • Ability to walk and move 

Unlike other medical conditions that can affect movement, in CP the problem isn't in your muscles or nerves—it comes from damage to the brain itself, often caused by a pathology known as periventricular leukomalacia.

Many people with CP also have related conditions such as: 

  • Seizures (epilepsy) 
  • Intellectual disability
  • Hearing
  • Feeding
  • Speech problems
  • Spine changes
  • Joint problems

CP affects about one in 323 children in the United States.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes cerebral palsy?

    Cerebral palsy is caused by a brain injury during pregnancy, delivery, or early in a baby’s life. Potential causes of brain damage include:

    • Genetic conditions
    • Metabolic disorders
    • Bacterial meningitis
    • Prenatal infections (e.g., toxoplasmosis, human parvovirus, herpes)
    • Bleeding in the brain
    • Lack of oxygen due to problems with the placenta
    • Folic acid deficiency in the mother
    • Severe jaundice
    • Head trauma
  • Is cerebral palsy genetic?

    Some cases of cerebral palsy are genetic, but the role of genetics isn’t clear. Research has uncovered some genetic patterns related to the condition, including mistakenly repeated portions of genes, but they haven’t found a single gene that appears to be responsible for the disease’s development.

  • Is cerebral palsy progressive?

    Cerebral palsy is not a progressive condition, meaning it doesn’t get worse over time. However, it is a life-long condition that can’t be cured. Long-term symptoms can lead to complications, but many of these can be avoided with proper care and planning.

Key Terms

Page Sources
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  1. Van Naarden Braun K, Doernberg N, Schieve L, Christensen D, Goodman A, Yeargin-Allsopp M. Birth prevalence of cerebral palsy: a population-based study. Pediatrics. 2016;137(1):1–9. doi:10.1542/peds.2015-2872

  2. Zaghloul N, Ahmed M. Pathophysiology of periventricular leukomalacia: What we learned from animal models. Neural Regen Res. 2017;12(11):1795–1796. doi:10.4103/1673-5374.219034

  3. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Data & statistics for cerebral palsy. Updated April 30, 2019.

Additional Reading