Cerebral Palsy

What is Cerebral Palsy (CP)?

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a broad term used to describe a group of disorders that affect the ability to move and keep one’s balance and posture as a result of an injury to the brain. A child with cerebral palsy may be simply a little clumsy or awkward, or unable to walk at all. It is the most common cause of motor disability in childhood today.ii

Causes and Risk Factors

There are many possible causes of cerebral palsy and these can occur during pregnancy, delivery or the first years of the childs life, including:iii

  • Genetic conditions
  • Lack of blood supply and/or oxygen to the brain
  • Brain damage due to bacterial meningitis or other infections
  • Severe jaundice
  • Head injury due to motor vehicle accident, falls or child abuse.

Factors associated with an increased risk of developing cerebral palsy include:3, iv

  • Low birth weight
  • Multiple births
  • Bacterial infection of the mother, fetus or infant
  • Lack of growth factors during pregnancy
  • RH factor blood type incompatibility between mother and infant
  • Infection of the mother with viral diseases, (such as German measles) in early pregnancy.

Prevalence and Incidence of Cerebral Palsy in the U.S.

An estimated 1.5 to 2 million children and adults have cerebral palsy in the United States, with about 10,000 babies and infants diagnosed with the condition each year.v An additional 1,200-1,500 preschoolers also are diagnosed with cerebral palsy annually.4 Sixty-five percent of children with cerebral palsy will have some degree of mental impairment.vi The incidence and prevalence of cerebral palsy continues to increase worldwide, due to the significant rise in premature infant survival rates and increasing number of multiple births.

The Socio-economic Impact of Cerebral Palsy

The socio-economic costs of cerebral palsy can be debilitating; the average lifetime expenditure for a person with cerebral palsy is nearly $1 million. It is also estimated that the lifetime care and medical costs for all people with cerebral palsy born in the U.S. in 2000 alone will total $11.5 billion.vii

Clinical Challenges

There is currently no cure for cerebral palsy and no standard therapy that works for all patients. Because the neurological damage that causes cerebral palsy often occurs during pregnancy, prevention is difficult. Diagnosing cerebral palsy also presents unique challenges, since symptoms may not be seen in a child until they are old enough to exhibit individual growth patterns and behaviors.


ii Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Learn More About Cerebral Palsy. http://www2a.cdc.gov/podcasts/media/pdf/CerebralPalsy.pdf. Accessed April 2008.

iii National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Cerebral Palsy: Hope Through Research. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/cerebral_palsy/detail_cerebral_palsy.htm?css=print. Accessed April 2008.

iv United Cerebral Palsy. Cerebral Palsy – Facts & Figures. http://www.ucp.org/ucp_generaldoc.cfm/1/9/37/37-37/447. Accessed April 2008.

v United Cerebral Palsy. Cerebral Palsy Fact Sheet. http://www.ucp.org/uploads/cp_fact_sheet.pdf. Accessed April 2008.

vi 4 My Child. The State of Cerebral Palsy – Facts and Figures. http://www.cerebralpalsy.org/what-is-cerebral-palsy/statistics. Accessed April 2008.

vii Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Economic costs associated with mental retardation, cerebral palsy, hearing loss, and vision impairment ? United States, 2003. MMWR. 2004;53:57-9