Doha, 7 October, 2019: Dr. Mahmoud Ibrahim Abeidah, Head of the Pediatrics Rehabilitation Department at Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) Qatar Rehabilitation Institute (QRI), says reframing how we view cerebral palsy is crucial to both ensuring those with the condition get the medical care they need and to reducing stigma and misconceptions about this neurological disorder.
“Historically, cerebral palsy was considered a pediatric condition. However, thanks to modern medicine and better healthcare standards, most children with this disorder now live into adulthood. Many adults with cerebral palsy have a near-normal life expectancy,” said Dr. Abeidah.
“Cerebral palsy affects each person differently, so no two families will have the same experience. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and the severity of those symptoms can change over time. There are a lot of myths about cerebral palsy among the general public and these misconceptions and misunderstandings, such as that children with cerebral palsy have a limited future and will never live independently, negatively affect how we view these important members of our community,” added Dr. Abeidah.
Cerebral palsy, commonly known as CP, refers to a group of disorders that affect muscle movement, coordination, and posture. In many cases, vision, hearing, and sensation are also affected. According to the US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the condition affects up to 4 out of every 1,000 children worldwide. Dr. Abeidah says CP is the most common cause of motor disabilities in childhood, with symptoms usually appearing before age 3.
“Most children are born with CP, but they may not show signs of a disorder until months or a year later. There are currently over 1,000 children, young adults, and adults with CP being cared for across HMC’s network of hospitals. Each year we receive upwards of 60 to 80 new cases of children born with the condition,” said Dr. Abeidah.
“While symptoms do vary, some of the common first symptoms parents may notice include delays in reaching developmental milestones, such as rolling over or crawling, variations in muscle tone, difficulty speaking, tremors, excessive drooling, and seizures,” added Dr. Abeidah.
While the exact cause of CP is not known, the condition is triggered by abnormal development of the brain or damage to the developing brain. Several factors increase the risk of cerebral palsy, including maternal health, infant illness, and pregnancy and birth complications.
“The cause could be congenital, genetic, inflammatory, anoxic, infectious, traumatic, or metabolic. The injury to the developing brain may be prenatal, natal, or postnatal. In rare cases, CP happens because something goes wrong during a child's birth. The most significant risk factor for CP seems to be prematurity and low birth weight,” said Dr. Abeidah.
Dr. Abeidah says while there is no cure for cerebral palsy, early intervention and ongoing medical treatment are essential. He says therapy for movement, learning, speech, hearing, and social and emotional development are an important part of ensuring children with CP reach their full potential. He added that medications and surgery may also be necessary to help those with significant muscle pain and stiffness, or dislocated hips and scoliosis.
“We urge any parent who is concerned their child may have CP to immediately speak with their primary healthcare physician. It is essential that a proper diagnosis is made and that treatment is sought. Here at HMC, we adopt a family-centered model of care where family and caregivers are involved in every decision made about their child’s treatment. Our multidisciplinary team, which includes neonatologists and other physicians, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, dietitians, and others, work together with families to help these children and young people integrate into the community,” said Dr. Abeidah.
Dr. Abeidah added that QRI’s care programs have been specifically designed to meet the individual needs of each patient, with services ranging from general rehabilitation clinics, a feeding and swallowing clinic, gait assessment clinic, student evaluation clinic, hypertonia/spasticity clinic, and the recently established seating and positioning clinic. He added that while most patients with CP are cared for in the outpatient setting, QRI does have a day rehab program where children and young people with CP can be enrolled at the hospital for a period of intensive rehabilitation.