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Heart and lung disease risk doubles for cerebral palsy patients

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People with cerebral palsy are twice as likely to get heart and lung diseases, shows a new study led by RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) and Brunel University London.

Adults with cerebral palsy are 75% more likely to have a chronic disease and twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease and chronic respiratory disease, such as asthma.

But they are not more likely to develop diabetes or cancer, found the research, now published in Neurology.

“Until recently, we did not know much about the consequences of ageing with cerebral palsy,” said study leader Dr Jennifer Ryan, who lectures at both RSCI and Brunel.

“Our findings highlight the need for further research into the management of non-communicable diseases in this population.

“Recent clinical guidelines for adults with cerebral palsy in the UK recommended that pathways need to be developed that allow adults with cerebral palsy access to a multidisciplinary team. However, adults with cerebral palsy in Ireland lack access to coordinated multidisciplinary support.”

The study compared 1,700 adults with cerebral palsy and 5,000 adults without the condition to identify how many developed non-infectious diseases, such as asthma or stroke.

Compared with the population as a whole, adults with cerebral palsy were specifically 2.6 times more likely to develop heart failure, 5.5 times more likely to have a stroke, 2.2 times more likely to develop asthma, 1.6 times more likely to develop hypertension and 2.3 times more likely to develop ischaemic heart disease.

About 17 million people have cerebral palsy worldwide. But while it was once a paediatric condition, most children with it now survive into adulthood. Many adults with cerebral palsy have a near-normal life expectancy.

Cerebral palsy is not a progressive condition. However, at least a quarter of young adults report that their ability to walk gets worse, which may contribute to the development of chronic health conditions.

Being able to reach health professionals early, such as physiotherapists, orthopaedic surgeons and neurologists with knowledge of cerebral palsy, may slow deterioration and prevent them from getting secondary conditions.

"Our results clearly emphasise the importance of reframing how cerebral palsy is traditionally viewed,” said Dr Neil O'Connell, co-author, physiotherapist and senior lecturer at Brunel University London.

“We need to recognise that it is not simply a condition of childhood. Health services should be designed and delivered with the aim of supporting people with cerebral palsy to be healthy and active throughout their lives."

Reported by:

Hayley Jarvis, Media Relations
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