Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

If your family doctor or pediatrician suspects that your child has cerebral palsy, he or she will evaluate your child's signs and symptoms, review your child's medical history, and conduct a physical evaluation. Your doctor may refer you to a doctor trained in treating children with brain and nervous system conditions (pediatric neurologist).

Your doctor will also order a series of tests to make a diagnosis and rule out other possible causes.

Brain scans

Brain-imaging technologies can reveal areas of damage or abnormal development in the brain. These tests may include the following:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI uses radio waves and a magnetic field to produce detailed 3-D or cross-sectional images of your child's brain. An MRI can often identify any lesions or abnormalities in your child's brain.

    This test is painless, but it's noisy and can take up to an hour to complete. Your child will likely receive a mild sedative before the test. An MRI is usually the preferred imaging test.

  • Cranial ultrasound. This can be obtained during infancy. A 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.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan. A CT scan uses X-rays to obtain cross-sectional images of your child's brain. A CT scan may be used to identify abnormalities in your child's 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.

Electroencephalogram (EEG)

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.

Laboratory tests

Your child's blood may need to be checked to rule out other conditions, such as blood-clotting disorders that can cause strokes, which may mimic cerebral palsy signs and symptoms. Laboratory tests may also screen for genetic or metabolic problems.

Additional tests

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
  • Other developmental delays
  • Movement disorders
Aug. 16, 2013

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