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Adults with Cerebral Palsy Vulnerable to Chronic Conditions

adult male patientResearchers from the University of Michigan have published a study indicating that adults with cerebral palsy may be more susceptible to many chronic conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, heart problems and asthma.

The team examined eight different chronic conditions, comparing adults with cerebral palsy to those without the neurological disorder. Results of the study were published in the Dec. edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

According the research team, death caused by ischemic heart disease and cancer is higher for adults with cerebral palsy than those without it, but there have been no national efforts to monitor the disease risk for these individuals. The researchers claim the health status and healthcare needs of this population is severely misunderstood.

Link between cerebral palsy and chronic conditions

The study covered nine years of medical data on over 200,000 adults — with information collected by the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, directed by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality from the period of 2002 to 2010 — including over 1,000 individuals with cerebral palsy. The results revealed that adults who have cerebral palsy face a two to five times greater risk of developing asthma, diabetes, arthritis, stroke, joint pain, hypertension, emphysema and heart problems. Asthma was the most prevalent, with 20.7% of adults with cerebral palsy impacted by the condition, as opposed to just 9.4% of those without the disorder.

According to the research team, a number of factors increased a person’s risk of developing these chronic conditions — including sex, physical disability, age, inactivity and weight — but adults with cerebral palsy still had higher instances, even after taking these influencers into consideration.

About cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy appears during infancy or in the early childhood years. This neurological disorder permanently impacts movement and muscle coordination, although it doesn’t stem from issues with the nerves or muscles. Most impacted children are born with it — a total of 85% to 90% — but their symptoms may not be recognized immediately. There are several possible reasons why the brain develops abnormally, impacting the person’s ability to control their muscles, including a lack of oxygen at birth. In many instances, the exact cause of cerebral palsy remains unknown.

It is possible for children to develop acquired cerebral palsy from a head injury or a brain infection during their early years, while their brain is still developing. However, only a small percentage of cerebral palsy cases are caused by injuries that take place more than one month after the child’s birth.

The most common signs of cerebral palsy include:

  • Dragging one foot or leg while walking
  • Spastic reflexes and stiff muscles
  • Crouched gait
  • Overly sloppy or stiff muscle tone

Spastic cerebral palsy is by far the most common type of cerebral palsy, as 80% of impacted people have it. People with this condition suffer from increased muscle tone, which makes their muscles stiff and causes their movements to be awkward. Another type is dyskinetic cerebral palsy, which causes the person to have difficulty controlling their hand, arm, legs and feet movements and makes it hard to walk and sit. Additionally, those with ataxic cerebral palsy have trouble managing their coordination and balance.

There is no cure for cerebral palsy, but treatment can help a child conquer developmental disabilities and learn how to cope with their disorder. The severity of cerebral palsy varies on an individual basis. Some people have debilitating disabilities, while others are only mildly incapacitated.

  1. JAMA, Chronic Conditions in Adults With Cerebral Palsy

  2. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, NINDS Cerebral Palsy Information Page

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Facts About Cerebral Palsy