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Causes of Cerebral Palsy

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Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affect body movement and muscle coordination. Research shows that cerebral palsy may occur because of abnormal brain development or damage to the area of the brain that controls motor function. Cerebral palsy can often be traced to several factors and may occur anytime during pregnancy, labor and delivery, and/or early childhood.

Unfortunately, cerebral palsy is sometimes the result of a medical mistake. If you suspect your child's palsy is the result of birth complications, consult with birth injury lawyers to learn about past settlements and determine your eligibility for compensation.

Congenital Cerebral Palsy

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke estimates that 90 percent of cerebral palsy cases are congenital, meaning the condition was present at birth. This includes cases in which the condition was caused by mistakes made during the birthing process. Congenital cerebral palsy may occur because of one or more of the following events:

  • Loss of oxygen to the brain (asphyxia). Five to 10 percent of cerebral palsy cases are a result of asphyxia in labor and delivery. Some of the reasons asphyxia may occur include uterine rupture, detached placenta, umbilical cord problems and low maternal blood pressure. Many times this is caused by a mistake on the part of hospital, hospital staff or physician. If you suspect your child suffers from cerebral palsy due to a birth injury that occurred during the delivery process, a birth injury lawyer can help you understand your rights.
  • Damage to the white matter of the brain. This type of personal injury disrupts the normal transmission of signals. This can be caused by maternal or fetal infection. The brain is most vulnerable to this type of damage between week 26 and 34 of pregnancy.
  • Abnormal development of the brain. This usually occurs within the first 20 weeks of gestation. Malformations of the brain can be caused by genetic defects, fever, infections and other traumas.
  • Bleeding in the brain. Fetal stroke can cause bleeding in the brain. Fetal stroke can occur because of conditions such as maternal hypertension, blood clotting abnormalities, malformed blood vessels in the brain and blood clots in the placenta.


Postnatal Cerebral Palsy

An estimated 10 percent of cerebral palsy cases are attributed to a postnatal event. This is sometimes referred to as acquired cerebral palsy. Illnesses such as bacterial meningitis and viral encephalitis can cause acquired cerebral palsy. However, the most common causes of cerebral palsy in infants and toddlers are head injuries from child abuse and head injuries caused by an accident in a car. If you suspect that someone such as a babysitter or caregiver may be responsible for your child's cerebral palsy, it is very important that you speak with a personal injury attorney to determine whether you may be able to obtain compensation for medical bills and other expenses related to the condition.

Risk Factors for Cerebral Palsy

Studies have identified several risk factors for cerebral palsy. It is important to note that the presence of one or more risk factors does not mean a child will develop cerebral palsy, but rather that he or she may be at increased risk. Similarly, the absence of risk factors does not mean a child will not develop cerebral palsy.

Risk factors associated with cerebral palsy include:

  • Maternal infections such as rubella (German measles), toxoplasmosis, herpes, cytomegalovirus and chorioamnionitis (infection of the placental membranes). According to the March of Dimes, infants exposed to chorioamnionitis in the womb are four times as likely to develop cerebral palsy.
  • Other maternal conditions such as thyroid disease, mental retardation and seizures.
  • Low birth weight (less than 3 1/3 pounds) and premature delivery (less than 37 weeks). An estimated 50 percent of cerebral palsy cases occur in full-term infants and 50 percent in preterm infants.
  • Multiple gestations, including twins and triplets. There is a greater risk of cerebral palsy if one of the babies dies in utero.
  • Exposure to toxins such as methyl mercury, drugs or radiation.
  • Metabolic disorders (e.g., hyperinsulimia).
  • Severe jaundice in newborns.
  • Rh incompatibility, a blood condition that causes the mother's immune cells to attack the fetus, resulting in jaundice.

If your child has cerebral palsy, an injury attorney can help you investigate the cause of your child's condition, determine your legal rights and provide you with information on settlements from cases similar to yours.

Did You Know?

Brain injuries that occur after 3 years of age can produce symptoms similar to or exactly like cerebral palsy, but are not considered cerebral palsy.