Understanding Mixed Cerebral Palsy: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Understanding mixed cerebral palsy (CP) is crucial for families and individuals affected by this complex condition. As mixed CP combines two or more types of cerebral palsy, it presents unique challenges that require special attention and care. By gaining a comprehensive understanding of mixed CP, its symptoms, causes, and treatment options, families can better support their loved ones and help them lead fulfilling lives.

This blog post aims to provide a fresh perspective on mixed cerebral palsy, diving deep into its various types, the role of brain damage, and the diverse treatment possibilities. With this knowledge, families and individuals can navigate the complexities of mixed CP and make informed decisions about their care and support.


Short Summary


  • Mixed cerebral palsy is a complex neurological disorder caused by damage to the motor cortex, basal ganglia and/or cerebellum.
  • Common symptoms include spasticity, dyskinesia, ataxia and difficulty with motor skills, verbal communication and swallowing.
  • Treatment options for Mixed CP involve physical therapy, speech therapy, medication or surgery when necessary. Support resources are available from organizations like UCP & Cure CP.


Defining Mixed Cerebral Palsy


A child with mixed cerebral palsy, showing spastic, athetoid and ataxic symptoms


Mixed cerebral palsy is characterized by a combination of two or more types of CP, caused by damage to the motor cortex, basal ganglia, and/or cerebellum. This unique combination presents a wide range of symptoms and challenges, as the individual may experience medical problems associated with each type of CP, such as brain malformations, seizures, and swallowing difficulties.

To better understand mixed CP, we must examine its three primary components: spastic cerebral palsy, athetoid cerebral palsy, and ataxic cerebral palsy.


Spastic Cerebral Palsy


Spastic cerebral palsy, the most common type of CP, is characterized by stiff muscles and difficulties with movement due to damage to the motor cortex. This damage results in high muscle tone, mobility challenges, and impaired coordination. There are various subtypes of spastic CP, including spastic hemiplegia, spastic diplegia, and spastic quadriplegia, each with its own challenges and potential medical issues, such as brain malformations in spastic quadriplegia.

When spastic CP is combined with other types of CP, the individual may face even more complex motor control challenges. For example, in mixed CP, a person might experience both spasticity and involuntary movements, making movement and daily activities significantly more difficult.


Athetoid Cerebral Palsy


Athetoid cerebral palsy, another component of mixed CP, affects muscle tone and movement. It is characterized by involuntary movements, tremors, poor posture, unsteadiness, twisting of the torso, slow, writhing movements, and fluctuating muscle tone. This type of CP is caused by brain injury sustained during late pregnancy or the early birth period.

Treatment options for athetoid CP include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, medication, and surgery. These treatments aim to improve motor control, reduce involuntary movements, and enhance the individual’s overall quality of life.


Ataxic Cerebral Palsy


Ataxic cerebral palsy results from damage to the cerebellum and is characterized by impaired balance, coordination, and fine motor skills. Individuals with ataxic CP may struggle with tasks such as grasping objects and fastening clothing. This type of CP is estimated to constitute between 5% and 10% of all identified cases.

When ataxic CP is combined with other types of CP, the individual’s challenges with balance and coordination are compounded by symptoms from other CP types, making it even more crucial to develop a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to their unique needs.


Common Symptoms of Mixed Cerebral Palsy


A child exhibiting common symptoms of mixed cerebral palsy, such as involuntary movements and fluctuating muscle tone


In mixed cerebral palsy, individuals experience symptoms from the various types of CP, such as spasticity, dyskinesia, and ataxia. These symptoms can manifest as rigid muscles, uncontrolled movements, atypical reflexes, heightened muscle tone, jerky or limp movements, tremors in the limbs, inadequate posture, difficulty with motor skills, verbal communication, and swallowing.

The most common combination of cerebral palsy in mixed CP is spastic-dyskinetic, presenting with both spasticity and involuntary movements. This combination of symptoms can make daily activities and self-care more challenging for individuals with mixed CP, emphasizing the need for personalized treatment plans and support.


Causes and Risk Factors for Mixed Cerebral Palsy


An image representing the causes and risk factors for mixed cerebral palsy, such as maternal infection and medical negligence


Mixed cerebral palsy is caused by damage to a child’s brain, which may occur prenatally, during delivery, or postnatally while the brain is still developing. Less than 10% of cases are caused by birth trauma or asphyxia during birth, but other factors such as intrauterine infections, placental complications, multiple births, and maternal seizures may be involved. Medical negligence before, during, or after childbirth can cause cerebral palsy in newborns. This is unfortunately the case in some scenarios.

Potential risk factors for mixed CP include injuries and failing to receive childhood vaccinations. Although there is no guaranteed way to prevent cerebral palsy, certain steps can be taken to lower the risk, such as keeping up with doctor appointments throughout pregnancy, ensuring the child’s safety, and getting all necessary vaccinations. Additionally, advocating for oneself and the child during labor and delivery can minimize potential risks.


Diagnosing Mixed Cerebral Palsy


A doctor examining a child for mixed cerebral palsy, looking for early signs and symptoms


Diagnosing mixed cerebral palsy involves a combination of physical examination, medical history, and diagnostic tests, such as MRI and CT scans. Early and accurate diagnosis is crucial for determining the appropriate treatment options and support services for the individual and their family.

Other tests that may be employed to diagnose mixed cerebral palsy include EEG, genetic testing, and metabolic testing. These tests, combined with the physical exam and medical history, help paint a comprehensive picture of the individual’s unique combination of CP types, allowing healthcare professionals to develop a personalized treatment plan.


Treatment Options for Mixed Cerebral Palsy


Treatment for mixed cerebral palsy is tailored to the individual’s symptoms and types of CP, and may include physical therapy, speech therapy, medication, and surgery. The goal of treatment is to improve the individual’s quality of life by addressing their unique challenges and maximizing their strengths.

It is essential to customize the treatment plan to address the specific combination of cerebral palsy types that the individual has been diagnosed with. This personalized approach ensures the individual receives the most effective and targeted interventions to improve their motor control, communication, and overall well-being.


Physical Therapy


A physical therapist helping a child with mixed cerebral palsy improve motor control


Physical therapy plays a vital role in improving strength, flexibility, and mobility for individuals with mixed cerebral palsy. Physical therapists employ a variety of techniques, such as exercises, stretches, massage, heat and cold therapy, electrical stimulation, and ultrasound, to address the individual’s unique motor control challenges.

By consistently practicing specific exercises and activities, individuals with mixed CP can stimulate neuroplasticity and make lasting improvements in their motor control and overall functioning. Tools like FitMi, a home rehabilitation tool, can further assist in enhancing mobility by encouraging numerous repetitions of exercises focused on the hands, arms, core, and legs.


Speech Therapy


Speech therapy is another crucial component of treatment for mixed cerebral palsy, as it helps improve communication and swallowing. Speech therapists work with individuals to enhance pronunciation, augment the muscles used in speech, and help them learn to articulate properly.

By improving communication capacity and strengthening the muscles used for speaking, speech therapy can have a significant impact on an individual’s daily life. Improved communication and swallowing can lead to increased independence, social interaction, and overall well-being.


Medication and Surgery


In some cases, medication and surgery may be necessary to manage symptoms and improve quality of life for individuals with mixed cerebral palsy. Medications such as anticonvulsants, antidepressants, anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, benzodiazepines, and nerve blockers can help reduce spasticity, improve muscle tone, and decrease seizures, as well as treat co-occurring conditions like behavioral disorders.

Surgery can be employed to rectify physical deformities, enhance mobility, and alleviate pain. It can also be utilized to treat accompanying conditions such as seizures and behavioral disorders. However, it’s important to weigh the potential risks and side effects associated with medications and surgical procedures, such as drowsiness, nausea, headaches, and potential liver and kidney damage with long-term medication use.


Support and Resources for Families


A family receiving support and resources from a national institute for mixed cerebral palsy


Families affected by mixed cerebral palsy have access to a range of assistance and resources, such as organizations offering support services like United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) and Cure CP. These organizations provide advocacy, support services, and resources for people with cerebral palsy and their families.

Online support groups, such as Family Voices, can offer emotional support to parents and caregivers, connecting them with others who share similar experiences and challenges. By seeking out and utilizing these resources, families can improve their loved one’s quality of life and better navigate the complexities of mixed cerebral palsy.




In conclusion, mixed cerebral palsy is a complex condition that combines two or more types of CP, presenting unique challenges and symptoms that require personalized treatment and support. By understanding the various types of CP, the role of brain damage, and the diverse treatment options available, families and individuals affected by mixed CP can make informed decisions about their care and support.

With the right combination of physical therapy, speech therapy, medication, surgery, and support resources, individuals with mixed cerebral palsy can lead fulfilling lives and overcome the challenges they face. Together, we can create a brighter future for those living with mixed CP and their families.

Frequently Asked Questions

The most common type of mixed cerebral palsy is spastic-athetoid, which is a combination of spastic CP and athetoid CP. This type is caused by damage to the brain before or during birth and results in jerky movements, muscle tightness, joint stiffness, and difficulty with fine motor skills.

Spastic-athetoid CP can range from mild to severe and can be managed through physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other interventions.

Mixed cerebral palsy has no set life expectancy. Generally, people with the condition have similar life expectancies to those without it, ranging from 30 to 70 years. However, factors like mobility, medical care and equipment, autonomy and independence can have a significant impact on life expectancy.

The life expectancy of someone with mixed cerebral palsy is generally the same as any other person, ranging from 30 to 70 years on average. Factors such as the severity of the condition, access to proper medical care and equipment, and autonomy and independence are all key determinants in life expectancy. Feb 17, 2023.

Yes, it is possible to have more than one type of cerebral palsy. There are five main types of cerebral palsy, including spastic, ataxic, athetoid, hypotonic, and mixed.

Each type is identified by its distinct set of symptoms, and it is possible for a person to present with symptoms from multiple types.

Cerebral palsy is comprised of four main types: spastic, dyskinetic, ataxic, and mixed. Each type of CP has unique symptoms that can range from mild to severe, and each requires an individualized treatment plan.

For individuals with mixed cerebral palsy, life expectancy will vary depending on the severity of their condition and how well they respond to treatment. However, on average, people with mixed cerebral palsy can expect to live between 30 and 70 years.

With proper medical care and adaptive equipment, life expectancy can be significantly longer.

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