Diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cerebral palsy

Clin Obstet Gynecol. 2008 Dec;51(4):816-28. doi: 10.1097/GRF.0b013e3181870ba7.


Cerebral palsy is the most prevalent cause of persisting motor function impairment with a frequency of about 1/500 births. In developed countries, the prevalence rose after introduction of neonatal intensive care, but in the past decade, this trend has reversed. A recent international workshop defined cerebral palsy as "a group of permanent disorders of the development of movement and posture, causing activity limitation, that are attributed to non-progressive disturbances that occurred in the developing fetal or infant brain." In a majority of cases, the predominant motor abnormality is spasticity; other forms of cerebral palsy include dyskinetic (dystonia or choreo-athetosis) and ataxic cerebral palsy. In preterm infants, about one-half of the cases have neuroimaging abnormalities, such as echolucency in the periventricular white matter or ventricular enlargement on cranial ultrasound. Among children born at or near term, about two-thirds have neuroimaging abnormalities, including focal infarction, brain malformations, and periventricular leukomalacia. In addition to the motor impairment, individuals with cerebral palsy may have sensory impairments, cognitive impairment, and epilepsy. Ambulation status, intelligence quotient, quality of speech, and hand function together are predictive of employment status. Mortality risk increases incrementally with increasing number of impairments, including intellectual, limb function, hearing, and vision. The care of individuals with cerebral palsy should include the provision of a primary care medical home for care coordination and support; diagnostic evaluations to identify brain abnormalities, severity of neurologic and functional abnormalities, and associated impairments; management of spasticity; and care for associated problems such as nutritional deficiencies, pain, dental care, bowel and bladder continence, and orthopedic complications. Current strategies to decrease the risk of cerebral palsy include interventions to prolong pregnancy (eg, 17alpha-progesterone), limiting the number of multiple gestations related to assisted reproductive technology, antenatal steroids for mothers expected to deliver prematurely, caffeine for extremely low birth weight neonates, and induced hypothermia for a subgroup of neonates diagnosed with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cerebral Palsy* / diagnosis
  • Cerebral Palsy* / pathology
  • Cerebral Palsy* / prevention & control
  • Cerebral Palsy* / therapy
  • Child, Preschool
  • Developmental Disabilities / diagnosis*
  • Developmental Disabilities / epidemiology
  • Developmental Disabilities / etiology
  • Diagnostic Techniques, Neurological
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Motor Skills Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Motor Skills Disorders / epidemiology
  • Motor Skills Disorders / etiology
  • Neurologic Examination
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Care / standards*
  • Prenatal Diagnosis
  • Prognosis