Spasticity Medications for Cerebral Palsy

While many doctors prefer that children with cerebral palsy work through their therapy in non-medicinal ways, there are some conditions with the disorder that medications decrease the severity of –if even for a temporary amount of time. While these drugs should never be something prescribed over a long period of time, they may be something that children find relief in for a therapeutic period.

Diazapam

Diazapam’s most common name is Valim. Diazapam is primarily used for totally body relaxation, preventing the body from spasticity and from contractions. It’s also used to treat anxiety and acute alcohol withdrawal, it works by producing a normal bodily chemical called gamma-Aminobutric acid (GABA) which has a very calming effect on the muscles.

Side Effects:

Some side effects may include: confusion or unnatural thoughts, no fear of danger, depression, aggression, new seizures, weak or shallow breathing, feeling like you might pass out, muscle twitching, loss of bladder control, and urinating less or not at all. Less serious side effects include: drowsiness, memory problems, dizziness, restlessness, muscle weakness, nausea, drooling, dry mouth, blurred vision, or mild skin rash.

You might want to try if:

Diazapam isn’t nearly as addictive as some other medications available for treating muscle spasticity. If your child struggles with aggression, depression, or urinary incontinence, this may not be the drug for him or her, but it might otherwise be a great option.

Baclofen

Baclofen is a muscle relaxant, ideal for children who suffer from spasticity. Baclofen works to block messages from the spinal cord to limit how often and how extreme those spastic nerve impulses are. Sometimes given through a small pump near the abdomen in a  method called intrathecal baclofen (ITB), it can be more effective than taking Baclofen in the pill form.

Side Effects:

Side effects for Baclofen include drowsiness, weakness, dizziness, headache, seizures, nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, constipation, confusion, respiratory depression, insomnia, and increased urinary frequency or retention. However, if you stop taking Baclofen abruptly, there is an increased risk of seizures, hallucinations, high fever, more severe spasticity, muscle rigidity, and rhabdomyolysis. Combining Baclofen with other antidepressants cause muscle weakness.

You might want to try if:

If your child is taking other medications, or if you’re concerned about urinary incontinence, seizures, or respiratory problems, this may not be a great option for your child. You may also want to ask your doctor if your child can try the medication orally through the pill to avoid severe side effects, and do with the ITB treatment if he or she responds well enough. By starting with a low dose of the pill treatment, it would be easier for the child to discontinue usage if he or she experienced adverse effects.

Dantrolene

Dantrolene –like Baclofen and Diazapam- work to limit the child’s spasticity but goes about it in a different fashion. Dantrolene is a drug that works on the nerve impulses within the muscles themselves (not from the spinal cord like Baclofen). Dantrolene is especially beneficial for children with cerebral palsy, but is also used to treat patients with hypothermia.

Side Effects:

Side effects for Dantrolene are rare when you’ve taken the drug for a short period of time, and may appear if you’ve taken the drug for a long period of time. Common side effects include: diarrhea, dizziness, drowsiness, general feeling of discomfort, and muscle weakness. Less common side effects include: abnormal stool, cramps, acne-like rash, blurred vision, change in taste, chills, changed color perception, excessive tearing, halos around lights, headache, itching skin, loss of appetite, night blindness, sleeplessness, slurring of speech, sudden increase or decrease in urine, nervousness, or weight loss.

You might want to try if:

As with many medications, your child would be safe taking this drug for a short amount of time. Speak to your doctor about how long is too long to take Dantrolene, especially if some of your child’s cerebral palsy conditions include low body weight, a sleeping disorder, or urinary incontinence.