Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term for a group of movement and posture disorders that occur as a result of damage to the developing foetal or infant brain. Causes can include premature delivery and birth injuries. The disorders can sometimes be accompanied by cognitive problems or epilepsy. By far the most common type of cerebral palsy is spastic cerebral palsy where the range of movement is decreased because the muscles are tight. However, a significant minority (around 15%) have a type of cerebral palsy known as dystonic (or athetoid) cerebral palsy.
Dystonic cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the basal ganglia or cerebellum and causes dystonic symptoms such as involuntary muscle spasms and slow, rhythmic, twisting movements. The condition is clearly distinct from spastic cerebral palsy because the muscle tone switches from floppy and loose to tight rather than staying tight all the time. There can also be difficulty controlling the tongue and vocal cords. As with childhood-onset primary dystonias, treatment is usually through a variety of medications and sometimes botulinum toxin. However, Deep Brain Stimulation which is often effective for primary dystonias is not generally used for secondary dystonias.
The prevalence of cerebral palsy is around 1 in 500 so the number of people affected by dystonic cerebral palsy is estimated to be at least 15,000.
Last reviewed March 2012
The Dystonia Society provides the information on this page as general information only. It is not intended to provide instruction and you should not rely on this information to determine diagnosis, prognosis or a course of treatment. It should not be used in place of a professional consultation with a doctor.
The Dystonia Society is not responsible for the consequences of your decisions resulting from the use of this information, including, but not limited to, your choosing to seek or not to seek professional medical care, or from choosing or not choosing specific treatment based on the information. You should not disregard the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider because of any information you receive from us. If you have any health care questions, please consult the relevant medical practitioner.