Diabetes and Cerebral Palsy: Two Chronic Conditions that May Contribute to Each Other

May 11, 2018

Diabetes and cerebral palsy, or CP, are both chronic medical conditions, and, on the surface, seem unrelated. The former presents with problems in blood sugar control, and the latter represents a neurological condition that develops in childhood and affects movement. Research suggests, however, that the two have an interesting and complex relationship. Not only may abnormal blood sugars play a role in the development of CP, but people with CP are at a higher risk for having problems regulating glucose levels

Maternal blood sugar malfunction may play a role in the onset of CP. People with diabetes have difficulty regulating blood sugar levels, and they tend to have problems with insulin, which helps to take sugar into the body's cells. This leads to higher levels of sugar, or glucose, in the bloodstream. People with the Type 1 variety do not make insulin properly, and people with Type 2 have developed a decreased response to insulin. There is an additional, gestational form of this condition that a mother may develop in the second portion of her pregnancy, and it may be due to a maternal resistance to the effects of insulin. This can lead to problems for the baby like surplus fat stores and a higher risk of developing blood sugar problems later in life. These babies also tend to be larger in size, which can make delivery more difficult and can put the baby at risk for asphyxia. Asphyxia, or lack of oxygen, can result in brain damage and is the leading cause of CP. 

Cerebral palsy presents a unique set of challenges that may predispose someone to develop increased blood glucose levels. Diabetics have a higher risk of significant medical problems such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney dysfunction. A recent study found that adults with CP are more likely to develop blood sugar problems than those who do not have CP. There are several possible reasons for this, and one area of concern is that individuals with CP have difficulty being active since CP can create spastic muscles and problems with movement. This inactivity can lead to excess weight, which in turn may result in elevated glucose levels. It is important to counsel children with CP on their risk of developing these issues and advise them to make healthy food choices to help combat that risk. 

Elevated blood sugar levels may play a significant role in both the creation of CP and adversely affect its condition. Both issues are serious medical conditions, but it may be possible to improve the prognosis of CP by maintaining healthy blood glucose levels. As research continues to emerge on CP and surrounding issues, it presents an opportunity to equip parents and children with information that can improve their quality of life.