What is Hemiplegic Cerebral Palsy?

M. Haskins

Cerebral palsy is a disorder that significantly affects the body's motor functions. It is the result of a non-progressive brain injury or anomaly that is acquired early in life, sometimes before birth and usually before age 3. Hemiplegic cerebral palsy is one of several types of cerebral palsy, and specifically involves impaired motor function on one side of the body, affecting both the arm and the leg. Movement, balance and posture can all be affected by cerebral palsy, but severity of the symptoms vary greatly. There is no cure for hemiplegic cerebral palsy, or any other kind of cerebral palsy, but early diagnosis followed by physical therapy, occupational therapy and medical care can significantly improve quality of life.

Cerebral palsy significantly affects a person's motor functions.
Cerebral palsy significantly affects a person's motor functions.

Cerebral palsy can be classified by what parts of the body it affects. For example, monoplegia is a variant of hemiplegic cerebral palsy but affects only one limb, while quadriplegic cerebral palsy affects both sides of the body. It can also be classified by its physiological symptoms, such as: spasticity, meaning that the muscles are permanently contracted; athetosis, characterized by involuntary writhing movements; and ataxia, which causes problems with balance. Those diagnosed with mixed cerebral palsy have two or more physiological symptoms. Those diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy usually suffer from both quadriplegic cerebral palsy and mental retardation, as well as other debilitating conditions.

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

Hemiplegic cerebral palsy usually affects motor function and not intellectual capacity, and physical and occupational therapy can greatly improve physical capabilities. Persons with hemiplegic cerebral palsy often suffer from spasticity, and over time this contraction of the muscles leads to decreased muscle growth. This can cause decreasing mobility, but early intervention and therapy can help strengthen the affected muscles, making it possible to retain and develop motor function. Most children with this syndrome learn how to walk independently, sometimes with the help of splints and braces.

A wide variety of factors can cause cerebral palsy. Sometimes the brain injury occurs before birth because of genetic disorders, various infections affecting the mother or oxygen deprivation. In other cases, the injury occurs in the first years of life, caused by head traumas, brain hemorrhages or infections like meningitis. When a person has been diagnosed with hemiplegic cerebral palsy, it is important that an extensive neurological evaluation is done to determine the extent of the brain injury and what kind of support is needed. There are many cerebral palsy support groups available that can help both those with the disorder and their families find help, resources and information.

Hemiplegic cerebral palsy primarily affects one arm and one leg, on the same side of the body.
Hemiplegic cerebral palsy primarily affects one arm and one leg, on the same side of the body.

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