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In the 1860s, an English surgeon named William Little wrote the first medical descriptions of a puzzling disorder that struck children in the first years of life, causing stiff, spastic muscles in their legs and, to a lesser degree, in their arms. These children had difficulty grasping objects, crawling, and walking. As they grew up, they did not get better, but they did not get worse.
Their condition, which was called Little's disease for many years, is now known as spastic diplegia. It is just one of several disorders that affect control of movement and are grouped under the term cerebral palsy.
In fact, cerebral palsy is an umbrella-like description for several chronic disorders impairing control of movement, which appear in the first few years of life and generally do not worsen over time. The term cerebral refers to the brain's two halves, or hemispheres, and palsy means any disorder that impairs control of body movement.
Thus, problems in muscles or nerves do not cause these disorders. Instead, faulty development or damage to motor areas in the brain disrupt the brain's ability to control movement and posture adequately.
Symptoms of cerebral palsy range in severity. An individual with cerebral palsy may have difficulty with fine motor tasks, such as writing or cutting with scissors; experience trouble maintaining balance and walking; or have involuntary movements, such as uncontrollable writhing motion of the hands. The symptoms differ from one person to the next, and may even change over time in the individual. Other medical disorders, like seizures or mental impairment, may affect some people with cerebral palsy.
Contrary to common belief, cerebral palsy does not always cause profound disability. While a child with severe cerebral palsy might be unable to walk and need extensive, lifelong care, a child with mild cerebral palsy might require limited special assistance. Cerebral palsy is not contagious and not usually inherited from one generation to the next. At this time, there is no cure, although scientific research continues to yield improved treatments and methods of prevention.
The United Cerebral Palsy Association estimates that more than 500,000 Americans have cerebral palsy. Despite advances in preventing and treating certain causes of cerebral palsy, the number of children and adults it affects has remained essentially stable, or may have risen slightly over the past 30 years. This is partly because more critically premature and frail infants are able to survive with improved neonatal intensive care. Unfortunately, many of these infants have developmental problems of the nervous system or suffer neurological damage. Medical research is under way to improve care for these infants.
If your child or grandchild has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy that you believe may have been caused by a doctor or hospital's mistake, talk with a lawyer experienced in cerebral palsy law. Submit a simple, free and confidential legal consultation form today.
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