Diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy
The majority of cerebral palsy cases result from brain trauma before or during birth. While a child may suffer from cerebral palsy immediately after being born, CP is usually diagnosed several years into the child’s life when he or she begins showing signs of physical or cognitive impairment. Since cerebral palsy affects the brain and motor function, it is generally evidenced by problems with movement or thinking. When a child begins missing developmental milestones or is delayed when compared with their peers, this may be the first indicator of cerebral palsy.
How is Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?
Sometimes, doctors will investigate the potential for cerebral palsy because the child or mother has certain risk factors. For example, if the mother suffered an infection during pregnancy or the child was deprived of oxygen during birth, these circumstances increase the likelihood that the child will develop CP. On the other hand, there are many situations in which risk factors are not present. In these scenarios, parents and caregivers may seek medical help when a child has trouble moving or is delayed in crawling or walking. When consulting a pediatrician about possible CP in your child, they will ask initial questions to determine the specific signs you have observed.
If a pediatrician determines that your child may be suffering from cerebral palsy, that pediatrician will likely further examine your child’s signs and symptoms through a physical evaluation. Your pediatrician may then refer you to a specialist—often a pediatric neurologist—for further testing. This testing will help enable your doctors to make a diagnosis and rule out other possible causes of your child’s symptoms. The following are some of the most common tests used to diagnose cerebral palsy.
Brain scanning technologies can identify damage to an infant’s brain in addition to a number of related developmental problems. One of the most common brain scanning methods is called a Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, test. An MRI relies on radio waves and a magnetic field to produce a 3-D, cross-sectional image of the brain. An MRI is painless and can identify several brain abnormalities. Because an MRI is often noisy and prolonged (up to an hour), your child may be given a mild sedative prior to the test.
Your child may also be offered a cranial ultrasound, particularly during infancy. The cranial ultrasound relies on sound waves that help doctors image an infant’s brain. This does not result in a detailed image, but given that the test is inexpensive, quick, and minimally invasive, it can serve as a helpful preliminary test.
Your doctor might also run an electroencephalogram (EEG) test to rule out epilepsy as the cause of your child’s symptoms, particularly if your child has seizures. Medical technicians will attach electrodes to your child’s scalp and those electrodes will record electrical activity in your child’s brain. This test can help your doctor determine if epilepsy is causing irregular brainwave patterns, thereby potentially ruling out cerebral palsy. If epilepsy is not identified, this test may be consistent with a cerebral palsy diagnosis.
Lab tests can also assist your doctor in ruling out a number of genetic and metabolic problems that could be causing symptoms that mimic cerebral palsy. These tests may include plasma screens to rule out plasma ammonia issues, chromosome analysis to rule out hereditary conditions, creatine phosphokinase (CPK) isoenzymes tests designed to determine if there has been injury to your child’s heart, brain, or other muscles, and blood and urine tests to rule out unusually high concentrations of amino acids or other molecules associated with various other disorders. If none of these laboratory tests points to another disorder, they can offer further confirmation that cerebral palsy is causing your child’s signs and symptoms.
Further Tests after Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis
If your doctor tentatively or conclusively diagnoses your child with cerebral palsy, your child will likely be referred to other specialists who will assess the degree to which the cerebral palsy is affecting him or her. This will likely include a vision specialist to test whether optical treatment is required, a hearing specialist, a speech specialist to ensure that your child can communicate effectively, a disability or developmental specialist who will ensure that your child is developing as expected mentally, and possibly physical and occupational therapists.
The Importance of Early Diagnosis
When children are diagnosed before their first birthday, doctors and therapists can achieve improved physical and cognitive advancements and avoid complications that may develop over time, such as hip and spine problems, as well as spasticity. Unfortunately, most diagnoses occur when children are between one and two. In fact, only 21% of cerebral palsy sufferers are diagnosed before they are one-year-old. With available diagnostic tools, like the Gross Motor Assessment (for children younger than five months), the Hammersmith Infant Neurological Exam (for children older than five months), medical history, and an MRI scan, plus a baby’s fidgeting or body movements, doctors can accurately diagnose whether they have CP. Missing the opportunity to treat a child early is risky for doctors who want to wait until the child is older to confirm a cerebral palsy diagnosis. When the brain lesions characteristic of cerebral palsy already form, it is often too late to gain ground on aggressive motor and other physical and mental therapeutic treatment.
Child was Diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy in NJ, Now What?
If you suspect your child may be suffering from cerebral palsy, you should consult with an experienced medical professional as soon as you can. If you are unsure of the source but have noticed signs of a potential condition, begin writing down all of your child’s symptoms to provide your pediatrician with as much information as possible during your next appointment. Lastly, if your child was recently diagnosed with cerebral palsy in NJ, it is vital to understand the possible forms of negligence that may be at the root. Call (866)-708-8617 for more information or fill out the form below for a free case evaluation.
Related CP Information:
- Overview of Cerebral Palsy
- Signs and Symptoms of a Birth Injury
- Medical Malpractice Related to Cerebral Palsy
- Developmental Milestones, CDC