Cerebral palsy (CP) is not always a straightforward disease to diagnose in a small child. Since the symptoms vary and they are often similar to other diseases, it can be difficult to pinpoint CP as the cause. Parents often are the first to realize something is wrong, even when the outward signs are minimal. By listening to their parental intuition, parents can get their child the testing they need to find out whether their child has CP or other ailments.
CP often begins at birth and although difficult to distinguish as an infant, the signs are there. Most children with CP are diagnosed before two years of age, usually when parents start noticing that their child is not able to perform some functions. Infants who have difficulty with motor skills, focusing and taut muscles are showing signs that they may have CP.
Although CP is not a progressive disease, symptoms are more obvious as they get older, making it seem like they are getting worse. This is can be due to their symptoms changing, as they can throughout their life, but not necessarily worsening. Symptoms are also more noticeable as a child gets older as are not gaining the motor skills and coordination that is expected as they grow.
Differentiating CP From Other Diseases
There are other diseases that mask as CP. Some metabolic conditions may cause brain abnormalities and other issues with brain development. Also, there are coagulation diseases that can cause strokes and similar symptoms to CP. Coagulation issues can also be the cause for some types of CP. However, many of these other conditions can be diagnosed with proper testing, and need to be treated as soon as possible.
The first step to finding out whether a child has CP or another problem is to do brain image testing. Although the tests may not diagnose CP, they can rule out other disorders. Of course, it is possible and even common that a child can have CP and other disorders as well. Some of the testing a doctor may order could include:
- MRI Scan. Using a magnetic resonance imaging or MRI scan shows a 3-D image of the brain. Many disorders such as metabolic disorders that cause brain malformations may show up on an MRI.
- CT Scan. A computed tomography (CT) scan is an advanced form of the x-ray that can look at sections of the brain for any abnormalities.
- Cranial Ultrasound. Although this is the least detailed type of scan, it may be used in infants as it is easier to perform and has less risk.
If testing is not conclusive in diagnosing the problem, the parents and doctors can work together to determine what route to take next. Many specialists such as neurologists and eye and ear doctors may be beneficial in using other specific tests and observations to narrow down whether a child has CP.
CP is not always easily diagnosed but with the help science and the parent’s surety that something is wrong, doctors can get to the root of the issue. The sooner CP is either diagnosed or ruled out, the better it will be for treating and caring for the child.
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