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Cerebral Palsy Medications for Physical and Mental Relief

cerebral palsy medications to treat spasticity

Cerebral palsy medications will vary from person-to-person because every case of CP is unique.

This article will go over some common medications used to treat prevalent cerebral palsy conditions like spasticity, seizures, and pain.

Let’s get started!

Commonly Prescribed Cerebral Palsy Medications

Not everyone will respond the same way to medications, so it’s important to keep track of how they make your child feel throughout the day.

Medications can significantly improve your child’s physical and emotional abilities, but should not be solely relied upon.

Generally, taking medications in combination with other management interventions like physical therapy, daily stretching, and bracing is ideal for maximizing mobility.

Always keep your child’s doctor informed about what mediations your child is taking. Some medications do not mix well together and can cause harmful side effects.

1. Muscle Relaxants

muscle relaxant cerebral palsy medications

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Up to 80% of people with cerebral palsy experience spasticity, which is when their muscles continuously contract.

This can cause stiff movements, poor posture, and musculoskeletal pain.

Muscle relaxants are often prescribed to help reduce spasticity.

Baclofen is the most widely used muscle relaxant for relieving spasticity in individuals with cerebral palsy.

It can be taken orally, injected, or delivered directly to your spinal fluid through an intrathecal pump.

Baclofen acts on GABA B receptors in the central nervous system to promote the opening of potassium channels. This causes hyperpolarization and decreases action potential.

In other words, it alters the chemical balance in the central nervous system to decrease hyperactive muscle contractions.

2. Botox

Botox is another common medication used to manage spasticity in people with cerebral palsy.

It must be directly injected into spastic muscles and works by blocking the nerve signals that cause muscle contractions.

Once injected, it’ll take a few days to kick in and a couple of weeks to take full effect.

Generally, the effects of Botox last between 3-6 months.

This opens up an extended window of opportunity for children with cerebral palsy to intensely pursue physical therapy, promote neuroplasticity (rewiring of the brain), and reduce spasticity long-term.

3. Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines can be prescribed to help reduce multiple conditions including spasticity, anxiety, and seizures.

They act on GABA A receptors to promote the opening of chloride channels and decrease electron activity in the central nervous system.

When attached to the GABA binding site, GABA causes a calming effect by slowing down brain activity.

Diazepam is the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepine for cerebral palsy patients.

4. Anticonvulsants

Many children with cerebral palsy also experience co-occurring epilepsy.

Anticonvulsants (antiepileptics) are prescribed to reduce the onset of seizures.

They work by reducing the overactive brain stimulations that cause seizures.

5. Anticholinergics

cerebral palsy medications like muscle relaxants to reduce spasticity

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Anticholinergic medications are used to treat uncontrolled movements, shaking, and drooling.

They’re usually prescribed to those that have dyskinetic cerebral palsy.

Anticholinergics block acetylcholine from binding to nerves which reduces involuntary muscle stimulations.

6. Antidepressants

Did you know that children with cerebral palsy are more likely to develop depression than those without?

Antidepressants can help increase serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain to help regulate mood and ease symptoms of depression.

It’s important to note that antidepressants take a few weeks to kick in.

Common side effects include nausea, dizziness, and fatigue.

7. Pain Relievers

Prolonged spasticity can cause individuals with cerebral palsy to experience musculoskeletal pain.

Pain relievers (anti-inflammatory medications) can help regulate how intensely pain is perceived by the brain.

Many are accessible over-the-counter, but more powerful pain relievers will require a prescription.

Alternatives to Medications for Cerebral Palsy

using physical therapy in combination with medications to relieve cp symptoms

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Parents may be reluctant about giving their young children so many medications and may be wondering if there are alternative, more natural treatments that can be used instead.

Nonpharmacologic cerebral palsy treatments include:

A disadvantage of alternative medicines like acupuncture and massage therapy is that they have limited scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness.

These treatments are often hit or miss but are worth trying before committing to medications as they are relatively inexpensive and have very little risk of harm.

If you decide that a certain medication isn’t ideal for your child’s cerebral palsy, be sure to gradually ween them off it rather than abruptly discontinuing its use.

Sudden discontinuation can result in harsh withdrawal symptoms like irritability, tremors, nausea, confusion, hallucinations, and insomnia.

Cerebral Palsy Medications: Key Points

Generally, people with cerebral palsy use medications to help manage their spasticity, seizures, pain, and mental health.

While medications can significantly help reduce mental and physical complications, many of them do have harmful side effects and are easy to build a tolerance to, which may not be ideal for long-term use.

Therefore, it’s important to also commit to physical therapy and other nonpharmacologic management interventions to improve mobility and prevent overdependence on medications.

Hopefully, this article helped you better understand how different medications work to relieve cerebral palsy-related conditions.

Remember to always check with a doctor before starting any new medications to ensure safety and prevent any adverse effects when taken other medications.

Featured image: ©iStock.com/gpointstudio

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