What is Cerebral Palsy Quadriplegia?

D. Jeffress

Cerebral palsy quadriplegia is a classification of the motor movement disorder that entails problems in all four limbs. There are different degrees of cerebral palsy quadriplegia, ranging from minor difficulties with mobility to near complete paralysis. Most people with the disorder also suffer from some degree of cognitive impairment. Patients typically need constant home care to ensure they receive enough food and exercise. The condition cannot be cured, but doctors and physical therapists can help people maintain the highest possible levels of independence.

Cerebral palsy quadriplegia affects all four limbs.
Cerebral palsy quadriplegia affects all four limbs.

Cerebral palsy is usually caused by infections or injuries while a baby is still in the womb, though head trauma or a particularly devastating virus can bring on the disorder during first few years of life. Most cases do not involve all of a person's limbs; rather, problems are often confined to the legs or an arm or leg on one side of the body. Cerebral palsy quadriplegia occurs in about 10 percent of patients. In an even smaller percentage, muscles in the trunk and neck are affected as well.

The damage that causes cerebral palsy usually occurs before birth.
The damage that causes cerebral palsy usually occurs before birth.

A newborn who appears unable to relax or control muscles in the arms or legs is usually screened for cerebral palsy quadriplegia. The elbow, wrist, and knee joints may appear to be stuck in a fixed position. Depending on the severity of the condition, an infant may not be able to feed or breathe without medical assistance. As the child ages, he or she is likely to show signs of developmental and learning disabilities.

Children with mild to moderate cerebral palsy quadriplegia may be able to coordinate movements enough to sit up in a chair or stand with the aid of a table or walker. Doctors often prescribe muscle relaxants to prevent spastic reflexes and reduce associated pain and swelling. Patients are often enrolled in individualized physical therapy programs to help them gain strength and learn how to remain as mobile as possible. The condition does not get better in time, though a determined patient with dedicated doctors and therapists has a good chance of living a full, somewhat independent life.

Patients with severe quadriplegia are often wholly immobile. They are unable to maintain posture when sitting or standing, and usually spend most of their time in a bed or supportive wheelchair. Patients rely on caregivers to feed, dress, and bathe them. Some children with severe quadriplegia can communicate verbally, though a large number of sufferers have such significant cognitive deficits that they are unable to interact. Life expectancy is considerably lower with the severe variety of the disorder.

Quadriplegic cerebral palsy may confine the child to a wheelchair.
Quadriplegic cerebral palsy may confine the child to a wheelchair.

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Discussion Comments

anon155712

Note that some people with severe CP can't communicate verbally despite normal intelligence, because they have motor problems in the face as well. Many others can speak but are hard to understand unless you know them very well. Assistive communication devices such as a Dynavox can be helpful for severe CP. It's important to remember that inability to communicate can sometimes be mistaken for inability to understand.

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