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Causes Cerebral Palsy

What Causes Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy which occurs at birth is often the result of specific events during pregnancy or around the time of birth. These events result in damage to the motor centers in the developing brain. Often times, however, congenital cerebral palsy may not be detected for months.

Adequate care during pregnancy, labor and delivery and immediately after the delivery of the infant is essential. Failure to perform the necessary tests and accurately interpret the results of these tests may cause injury to the developing brain. Furthermore, improper use of medications, unrecognized fetal distress, untreated infections, excessive use of vacuum extraction and the failure to perform a timely cesarean section (C-section) may result in damage to the motor centers in the brain.

Congenital cerebral palsy can be caused by:

  • Jaundice in the infant:
    If left untreated, severe jaundice can damage the fetus's brain. Jaundice is a condition produced when excess amounts of bilirubin circulating in the blood stream dissolve in the subcutaneous fat (the layer of fat just beneath the skin), causing a yellowish appearance of the skin and the whites of the eyes. With the exception of physiologic jaundice in the newborn (normal newborn jaundice in the first week of life), all other jaundice indicates overload or damage to the liver, or inability to move bilirubin from the liver through the biliary tract to the gut.
  • Rh incompatibility:
    When the mother's body produces immune cells, called antibodies, which destroy the fetus's blood cells, this may lead to a form of jaundice in the newborn, and if left untreated or undiagnosed, could cause serious brain damage.
  • Severe lack of oxygen/oxygen deficiency:
    If the brain is deprived of oxygen for a prolonged period of time during labor and delivery the child may develop brain damage (hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy). Birth complications including asphyxia account for approximately 6 percent of congenital cerebral palsy cases.

Other Factors Which Could Cause Cerebral Palsy

Other research has shown that the following can also be linked to an increased risk in cerebral palsy:

  • Breech presentation:
    Infants with cerebral palsy are more likely to present feet first, instead of head first, at the beginning of labor.
  • Complicated labor and delivery:
    Infants with permanent brain damage resulting from vascular or respiratory problems during labor and delivery are at increased risk of cerebral palsy.
  • Low Apgar score:
    A low Apgar score — determined in the first minutes after birth by a check of the baby's heart rate, breathing, muscle tone, reflexes and skin color — is often considered an important sign of potential problems.
  • Low birth weight and prematurity:
    The risk of cerebral palsy is higher among babies who weigh less than 5 lbs., 7 1/2 oz. (2500 grams) at birth. The lower the birth weight the higher the risk of cerebral palsy. The risk of cerebral palsy is also higher among babies who are born less than 37 weeks into pregnancy.
  • Multiple births:
    Twins, triplets, and other multiple births are linked to an increased risk of cerebral palsy.
  • Nervous system malformations:
    Some babies born with cerebral palsy have nervous system malformation, such as an abnormally small head (microcephaly). Problems of this nature occurred in the development of the nervous system while the baby was in the mother's womb.
  • Maternal bleeding or severe proteinuria late in pregnancy:
    Vaginal bleeding during the last three months of pregnancy and severe proteinuria (the presence of excess proteins in the urine) are linked to a higher risk of having a baby with cerebral palsy.
  • Maternal Hyperthyroidism, Mental Retardation or Seizures:
    Mothers with hyperthyroidism, mental retardation or seizure disorders are slightly more likely to have a child with cerebral palsy.
  • Seizures in the newborn:
    A newborn infant who has seizures is at higher risk of being diagnosed, later in childhood, with cerebral palsy.

If your family has been affected by a birth injury such as cerebral palsy caused by a doctor's mistake or delivery room negligence, we invite you to contact our firm to discuss your case in a free initial consultation.