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Epidemiology and etiology of cerebral palsy

Geoffrey Miller, MD
Section Editors
Marc C Patterson, MD, FRACP
Carolyn Bridgemohan, MD
Deputy Editor
Carrie Armsby, MD, MPH


Cerebral palsy (CP) consists of a heterogeneous group of nonprogressive clinical syndromes that are characterized by motor and postural dysfunction. These conditions, which range in severity, are due to abnormalities of the developing brain resulting from a variety of causes. Although the disorder itself is not progressive, the appearance of neuropathologic lesions and their clinical expression may change over time as the brain matures.

The epidemiology and etiology of CP are reviewed here. The clinical manifestations, diagnosis, management, and prognosis are discussed separately. (See "Clinical features of cerebral palsy" and "Diagnosis and classification of cerebral palsy" and "Management and prognosis of cerebral palsy".)


The precise prevalence of cerebral palsy (CP) in the United States is uncertain because consistent information is lacking on follow-up of an entire population, especially for term and late preterm infants, which comprise the majority of births. A population-based surveillance study using data from three regions in the United States estimated a prevalence of 3.6 cases per 1000 children at eight years of age, but the study did not distinguish between children with and without a history of prematurity [1]. No data are available on CP prevalence in North America for term infants born since the mid-1980s [2]. In one report that used standard definitions and included 6000 children with CP from 13 geographically defined populations in Europe born from 1980 to 1990, the overall rate was 2.08/1000 live births [3].

The rate of CP is much higher in preterm than term infants, and increases with decreasing birth weight and gestational age [4]. This is illustrated by the following studies:

In a study from Europe, the rate was more than 70 times higher in infants with birth weight <1500 g than in those with birth weight >2500 g [3].


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Literature review current through: Jun 2015. | This topic last updated: Jan 11, 2015.
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