Electroencephalogram (EEG) and Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis

Little girl with EEG electrodes attached to her head; EEG illustrated graphic in foreground

When diagnosing cerebral palsy (CP) in children, healthcare professionals may use brain imaging procedures or EEG to gain insight into how a child’s nervous system is functioning. Medical care teams can use neuroimaging tests to study seizures and related neuromuscular disorders in children. Learn more about neuroimaging through electroencephalography (EEG), how an EEG can help detect cerebral palsy, and what evaluations doctors use to diagnose CP.

What Is an Electroencephalogram (EEG)?

An EEG detects abnormalities in the brain’s electrical activity. To measure brain wave activity, an EEG technician attaches electrodes made up of small metal discs with thin wires to a person’s scalp. The electrodes detect electrical charges from the resulting brain cell activity. This activity displays as a graph on an EEG monitor. To interpret brain wave activity, an EEG technician can print the graph onto paper.

A neurologist may request an EEG to study how a child’s brain responds to certain stimuli. For example, during an EEG, the technician may ask your child to look at a bright, flickering light or to breathe in and out a certain way. The EEG will record and display brain wave activity that your child’s doctor can analyze and interpret.

Can an EEG Detect Cerebral Palsy?

A healthcare professional may order an EEG to evaluate the presence of brain disorders. While doctors cannot use an EEG to diagnose CP specifically, they can perform the procedure after detecting features that suggest a child has epilepsy. Epilepsy occurs in about 15% to 60% of children with CP. Children who experience seizures have distinct electrical patterns in their brain wave activity that an EEG can detect.

Epilepsy and related seizure disorders need to be accurately diagnosed and treated because seizures can cause brain damage to worsen, which may contribute to the severity of CP in a child. Seizure activity itself can result in new brain injuries, which may give rise to other developmental and neuromotor problems besides CP.

Given the correlation between CP and epilepsy, if a doctor determines that a child has epilepsy through EEG testing, the testing may increase the chances of a CP diagnosis.

EEG and Spastic Cerebral Palsy Detection

Spastic CP is a developmental disorder that results from damage to a child’s brain before birth, during delivery, or within the first several years of life. This form of CP is characterized by jerky movements, stiff joints, and tight muscles. As a result of these motor coordination difficulties, children with this form of CP may experience challenges with walking or picking up objects. Some children with spastic CP may develop corresponding conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and epilepsy.

As noted earlier, a doctor may order an EEG if they suspect seizure activity in young patients with spastic CP. It is important to note, however, that a doctor may request additional neuroimaging and screenings beyond an EEG, such as:

  • Genetic and metabolic testing
  • Head CT scans
  • MRI scans
  • TORCH (toxoplasmosis, rubella, cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex and other agents, such as HIV) blood test screenings

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that because many children with CP also demonstrate related developmental conditions, such as intellectual disability and vision, hearing and speech problems, medical professionals should evaluate children for these disorders as well.

Diagnosing Cerebral Palsy

Developmental disorders like CP may be difficult to diagnose. Due to age, the bodies of younger children may be able to heal in some ways from brain damage. In addition, early diagnosis of CP may be difficult to attain because distinguishing between the signs of CP and the natural reflexes of a developing child can be challenging. Children who have a mild condition of CP often lack the motor control and coordination present in very young, healthy children.

CP may also be challenging to diagnose for the following reasons:

  • Several years may pass before definitive signs of CP appear
  • Children who have experienced brain damage can sometimes recover from a brain injury
  • Severity levels for CP may vary significantly from child to child
  • Signs of CP can resemble other disorders

It is important to pay attention to a child’s motor control and motor development within the first few years of life in order to eliminate the possibilities of other disorders that may resemble CP. For example, transient idiopathic dystonia, an abnormal flexing of the arm, is a condition that is often present in babies who are born prematurely. Infants with transient idiopathic dystonia usually display similar body movements to infants with CP, but transient idiopathic dystonia typically corrects itself by an infant’s first birthday.

If your child has received a cerebral palsy diagnosis, and you think that medical malpractice may be the cause, you may be eligible for compensation. Contact the Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC today for legal support from our dedicated team of professionals.



Reviewed by:
Trish Fletcher, MS, BSN, CRNP, NNP-BC, ALNC
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner | Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant

Tricia is a dedicated, focused, Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant and Neonatal Nurse Practitioner with more than 25 years of experience. Her strong clinical and critical thinking skills, paired with expertise caring for neonates in a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), ensures meticulous medical records review. READ FULL BIO

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