Microsoft Corp Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella’s son Zain passed away on Monday at the age of 26. He was born with cerebral palsy (CP). In an email message to executive staff, Nadella asked them to hold the family in their thoughts and prayers while giving them space to grieve privately.

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Here’s everything you need to know about the condition


According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), CP is caused by abnormal development of the brain or damage to the developing brain that affects a child’s ability to control his or her muscles. There can be several possible causes for the same.

CP related to abnormal development of the brain or damage that occurred before or during birth is called congenital CP. CDC notes that majority of CP (85–90 per cent) is congenital. In many cases, the specific cause is not known. A small percentage of CP is caused by abnormal development of the brain or damage that occurs more than 28 days after birth. This is called acquired CP, and usually is associated with an infection (such as meningitis) or head injury.

The condition, which hinders movement and posture, and causes some form of intellectual disability, seizures, and physical sensations, affects nearly 15-20 per cent of physically disabled children, according to a 2017 BMJ review.

In a piece for, Dr Sheba Sam, an occupational therapist with Prayatna, a private child development centre in Kochi, Kerala notes that CP is a lifelong condition that is caused by non-progressive damage to the infant brain, impacting the developmental trajectory of children, as well as their families. It is the most common physical disability in childhood and has a prevalence of approximately one in 500 live births; it is estimated that globally, 17 million people have CP.

Thyroid problems, seizures, infections/viruses such as chicken pox, rubella, cytomegalovirus, multiple births, assistive reproductive technology and infertility treatments, etc, are some of the major causes which can lead to cerebral palsy in children, said Dr Amar Singh Chundawat, Chief Surgeon at Narayan Seva Sansthan.

Precautions to be taken during pregnancy

According to experts, the developmental disorder might not get detected during pregnancy, though doctors usually monitor developmental milestones of the child. Pregnant women can take precautions, such as keeping hands clean, regular prenatal care, protection from flu, protection from Rubella, follow a controlled lifestyle (no smoking, alcohol or illicit drugs), staying aware about healthy pregnancy, timely vaccinations.


Diagnosis in infants less than six months is difficult except in very severe cases. “Observation of slow motor development, abnormal muscle tone, and unusual posture are common initial clues. Assessment of persistent infantile reflexes is important. As in all medical conditions, a systematic approach focusing on maternal, obstetric and perinatal histories, review of developmental milestones, and a thorough neurological examination and observation of the child is mandatory,” said Dr Pradeep Mahajan, regenerative medicine researcher, StemRx Bioscience Solutions Pvt. Ltd., Mumbai.

Pregnant women must take regular prenatal checkups to detect cerebral palsy. (Source: Getty Images)

According to him, complete evaluation of a child should include an assessment of associated deficits like vision, speech and hearing, sensory profile, oromotor evaluation, epilepsy and cognitive functioning as well as orthopedic evaluation.


As there is no definitive treatment for it, the patient and family will require a lot of counselling, physical therapy, educational support and occupational therapy to deal with CP. Dr Mahajan believes that stem cells offer promise. “Overall prevention of CP has not been successful. Mesenchymal stem cells are able to travel to and change the injured environment, increasing survival of neurons and making up for losses, thus proving to be a promising approach for treatment of CP,” he said.

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