Tests and diagnosisBy Mayo Clinic staff
If your family doctor or pediatrician suspects that your child has cerebral palsy, he or she will order a series of tests to make a diagnosis and rule out other possible causes.
Brain-imaging technologies can reveal areas of damage or abnormal development in the brain. These tests may include the following:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses radio waves and a magnetic field to produce detailed 3-D or cross-sectional images of the brain. This test is painless, but it is noisy and can take up to an hour to complete. Your child will likely receive a mild sedative. An MRI is usually the preferred imaging test.
- Cranial ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to obtain images of the brain. An ultrasound doesn't produce a detailed image, but it may be used because it's quick and inexpensive, and it can provide a valuable preliminary assessment of the brain. The ultrasound device is placed over the soft spot (fontanel) on the top of a baby's head.
- Computerized tomography (CT) is a specialized X-ray technology that can produce cross-sectional views of the brain. Scanning is painless and takes about 20 minutes. Because your child will need to be very still during the test, he or she will likely receive a mild sedative.
If your child has had seizures, your doctor may order an electroencephalogram (EEG) to determine if he or she has epilepsy, which often occurs in people with cerebral palsy. In an EEG test, a series of electrodes are affixed to your child's scalp. The EEG records the electrical activity of your child's brain. If he or she has epilepsy, it's common for there to be changes in normal patterns of brain waves.
Your child's blood may need to be checked to rule out other conditions — such as blood-clotting disorders that can cause strokes — that may mimic cerebral palsy signs and symptoms. Lab tests may also screen for genetic or metabolic problems.
If your child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, you'll likely be referred to specialists for assessments of other conditions that are often associated with the disorder. These tests may identify:
- Vision impairment
- Hearing impairment
- Speech delays or impairments
- Intellectual disabilities or mental retardation
- Other developmental delays
- Cerebral palsy: Hope through research. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/cerebral_palsy/detail_cerebral_palsy.htm. Accessed Sept. 27, 2010.
- Evaluating and diagnosing the child with cerebral palsy. American Academy of Neurology. http://www.aan.com/practice/guideline/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.view&guideline=124. Accessed Sept. 27, 2010.
- Cerebral palsy. American Academy of Pediatrics. http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/developmental-disabilities/Pages/Cerebral-Palsy.aspx. Accessed Sept. 28, 2010.
- Krigger KW. Cerebral palsy: An overview. American Family Physician. 2006;73:91.
- Ashwal S, et al. Practice parameter: Diagnostic assessment of the child with cerebral palsy: Report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology and the Practice Committee of the Child Neurology Society. Neurology. 2004;62:851.
- Cerebral palsy: Drug treatments for spasticity in children and adolescents. American Academy of Neurology. http://www.aan.com/practice/guideline/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.view&guideline=389. Accessed Sept. 27, 2010.
- Delgado MR, et al. Practice parameter: Pharmacologic treatment of spasticity in children and adolescents with cerebral palsy (an evidence-based review): Report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology and the Practice Committee of the Child Neurology Society. Neurology. 2010;74:336.
- Information for Healthcare Professionals: OnabotulinumtoxinA (marketed as Botox/Botox Cosmetic), abobotulinumtoxinA (marketed as Dysport) and rimabotulinumtoxinB (marketed as Myobloc). U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/PostmarketDrugSafetyInformationforPatientsandProviders/DrugSafetyInformationforHeathcareProfessionals/ucm174949.htm. Accessed Sept. 30, 2010.
- Patterson MC (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Nov. 9, 2010.