Learn more about Epidemiology of CP

‘Epidemiology’ is the branch of health science that explores the incidence (of new cases) of a health condition; the ‘prevalence’ (how many people in total there are with it in a community); the distribution of those cases (whether in a single community or across the world); and the understanding of factors relating to the ‘causes’ of that condition. The epidemiology of CP is a huge topic, and what is written briefly here are just a few general concepts important for everyone involved in CP to understand.

In the western world, CP happens in 2-3/1000 live births. In many less-resourced parts of the globe the incidence can be twice as high, related to a host of know (and almost certainly as many unknown) factors. It is essential to know the incidence of conditions like CP (and the ‘prevalence’ – how many people in total there are with it in a community – in order to develop services. Understanding the epidemiology of a condition like CP allows people to look at whether prevention strategies are working, and whether there are patterns of the kind of CP, or the distribution across the community, that might enable people to see possible causes.

A useful review is provided by:

Oskoui M, Coutinho F, Dykeman J, Jetté N, Pringsheim T.

An update on the prevalence of cerebral palsy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Dev Med Child Neurol. 2013 Jun;55(6):509-19. doi: 10.1111/dmcn.12080

One example of how epidemiological research helped identify one specific cause of developmental impairment that includes CP is cretinism, now formally called Congenital iodine deficiency syndrome. This developmental impairment occurs across the world, but the very high incidence of cases in areas where there is very limited iodine in the maternal diet allowed people both to identify maternal iodine deficiency as a cause of impaired fetal development, and to create prevention programs to add iodine to the diet (often in salt).

Studying the epidemiology of CP continue all over the world. This is important both to assess whether prevention programs like iodine supplementation are working and also to see whether new factors (e.g., Zika virus) might be causing CP.