Cerebral Palsy Causes

Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders caused by a brain injury that can interfere with movement and balance. The brain damage can result from improper development or physical injury to the brain before, during, or after childbirth. In many cases, the brain injury is caused by a medical error.

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What Causes Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a term that refers to a group of neurological disorders. People with cerebral palsy usually have problems with their motor skills. Some also have epilepsy, developmental disabilities, or intellectual disabilities.

There are four main types of cerebral palsy: spastic cerebral palsy, dyskinetic cerebral palsy, ataxic cerebral palsy, and mixed cerebral palsy. The type of cerebral palsy depends on the location of the brain damage.

Two types of brain damage can cause cerebral palsy:

  1. Genetic problems or problems with the mother’s health can interfere with the baby’s brain development.
  2. An illness or injury at birth or in the first few years of life can cause damage to an otherwise healthy brain. Often, a doctor makes a mistake that causes the brain damage.

A child usually develops cerebral palsy before or while being born, but that is not always the case. For example, a head injury from a car accident could cause cerebral palsy in a young child.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 85% to 95% of cerebral palsy cases are congenital, meaning the brain damage happened before or during birth.

Premature birth is the most common cause of cerebral palsy in the United States.

In some cases, the exact cause of a child’s cerebral palsy is unknown.

Determining the Cause of Cerebral Palsy

After a cerebral palsy diagnosis, parents may feel overwhelmed caring for their child. It may not be until months later that they start wondering what caused their child’s birth injury.

Typically, doctors use certain screenings to look for signs of cerebral palsy and make a diagnosis. They also use special tests to look for cerebral palsy causes. For example, brain imaging tests such as computed tomography (CT scan) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can show damaged areas of the brain.

Doctors usually diagnose cerebral palsy in the first or second year after birth. However, when a child’s symptoms of cerebral palsy and developmental delays are mild, the diagnosis could come later.

Doctors in a branch of medicine known as pediatrics often work with specialists to make a diagnosis.

Caregivers who are worried that a child might have cerebral palsy because they have not hit certain developmental milestones should contact a pediatrician.

Signs of cerebral palsy include:

  • Drooling
  • Floppy or stiff muscles on one or both sides of the body
  • Legs that cross or scissor

If a medical error caused your child’s cerebral palsy, you could be entitled to compensation. Let our team at LawFirm.com put you in touch with a top birth injury law firm for a free case review.

Cerebral Palsy Causes and Risk Factors

According to the CDC, cerebral palsy occurs in about 1 to 4 out of 1,000 live births.

Some risk factors that make it more likely that an infant will be born with cerebral palsy include:

  • Birth trauma
  • Bleeding in the brain
  • Blood clotting disorders
  • Infection
  • Labor and delivery complications
  • Low birth weight (especially less than 3.3 pounds)
  • Prematurity
  • Substance abuse during pregnancy
  • Viruses

Children born before the 32nd week of pregnancy are especially at risk.

Twins, triplets, and other multiple births also have an increased risk. So do children born from pregnancies involving infertility treatments.

Somewhere between 5% and 10% of cerebral palsy cases are caused by complicated labor and delivery.

Detachment of the placenta, uterine rupture, or umbilical cord problems can interfere with an infant’s oxygen supply and lead to cerebral palsy.

Conditions That Can Cause Cerebral Palsy

Infections to the mother and illnesses in a newborn can increase the risk of cerebral palsy.

Factors Related to the Mother

Certain infections and even toxic exposures during pregnancy make it more likely that an infant will be born with cerebral palsy. An infection can cause inflammation and damage the unborn child’s developing brain.

These infections and exposures can cause cerebral palsy and other birth defects in newborns:

  • Chickenpox: This common virus can harm a developing baby.
  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV): This virus causes flu-like symptoms and can lead to birth defects. It is the most common congenital (present at birth) infection.
  • Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV): This sexually transmitted infection can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy. It can cause problems with the womb and placenta.
  • Intrauterine infections: Infections of the placenta or fetal membranes can lead to birth injuries.
  • Rubella (German measles): A vaccine can prevent this viral infection.
  • Syphilis: This bacterial infection is usually spread by sexual contact.
  • Toxic exposure: Different toxins have been linked to cerebral palsy such as methyl mercury, a substance found in seafood.
  • Toxoplasmosis: A parasite found in contaminated food, soil, and cat feces causes this infection.
  • Zika virus infection: Mosquitoes spread this virus, which can affect brain development.

Thyroid problems, preeclampsia (a condition marked by high blood pressure), and seizures can also boost the risk of cerebral palsy in babies.

A cerebral palsy law firm can help determine if medical malpractice played a role in your child’s cerebral palsy. Contact us today for a free consultation with a top firm.

Testing for Maternal Infections

Obstetricians typically order a blood test known as a TORCH screen to look for infections that can harm an unborn baby during pregnancy. The screen tests for:

  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Other infections, including syphilis
  • Rubella
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Herpes simplex virus

In most cases, doctors order a TORCH test at the first prenatal visit. Medical professionals can also perform the test on newborns.

While not all of these infections are treatable, some are. Early diagnosis and medical care are the keys to stopping a treatable condition from spreading to an unborn baby.

Doctors should screen patients for conditions that place them and their babies at risk. This includes maternal infections, preeclampsia, and diabetes.

A doctor who fails to do so could be liable for medical malpractice.

Factors Related to the Baby

Infants are more likely to develop cerebral palsy when they have these conditions:

  • Bacterial meningitis: This bacterial infection leads to inflammation in the membranes around the brain and spinal cord.
  • Jaundice: Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin from unfiltered blood cell byproducts. When severe jaundice is not treated, it can cause a condition called kernicterus and lead to cerebral palsy.
  • Stroke: When a baby has a stroke in the womb, or soon after birth, it can cause bleeding in parts of the brain.
  • Viral encephalitis: This infection also causes inflammation in the membranes around the brain and the spinal cord.

A difference in the blood type between mother and baby can also cause jaundice and kernicterus.

Many birth injury law firms have on-staff nurses who will listen to your story and help you understand what may have happened to cause your child’s cerebral palsy. If your child’s condition seems like it was preventable, the nurse will connect you with a cerebral palsy law firm for a free case review.

Is Cerebral Palsy Caused by Doctors?

Sadly, errors made by trusted obstetricians and other medical professionals often cause cerebral palsy in children.

Some examples of medical errors that can cause a brain injury and cerebral palsy include:

  • Delayed response to fetal distress
  • Failure to correctly respond to a complicated labor and delivery
  • Failure to treat an infection
  • Improper use of forceps or other medical equipment

When a physician does not take proper medical action during a difficult labor and delivery, the newborn may experience a lack of oxygen. Oxygen deprivation, also known as asphyxia, can cause brain damage and lead to cerebral palsy. However, asphyxia is not as common a cause of cerebral palsy as once thought.

Medical malpractice includes actions that a physician takes while caring for a patient and inactions such as failure to diagnose or treat.

Parents may be entitled to financial compensation when medical malpractice causes or contributes to a child’s cerebral palsy. A cerebral palsy lawsuit can recover the money they need to pay for medical treatment, physical therapy, and occupational therapy.

How Do You Prevent Cerebral Palsy?

After a child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, it is common for parents to be overwhelmed with caring for a child with a brain injury. It may not be until much later that they start to wonder whether their child’s cerebral palsy was preventable.

Many times, the brain damage that causes cerebral palsy is preventable. This is the case when it is caused by medical malpractice or negligence.

In other cases, cerebral palsy cannot be prevented.

However, there are steps women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant can take to reduce the risk of complications:

  • Avoid alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. These substances increase the risk of cerebral palsy.
  • Get vaccinated. Getting vaccinated against a disease such as rubella before becoming pregnant could prevent an infection that could lead to fetal brain damage.
  • Maintain good health. While this is good advice for everyone, it is vital for women heading into a pregnancy. The better your health, the less likely you will develop an infection that can cause cerebral palsy.
  • Obtain prenatal care. Regular visits to a health care provider during pregnancy can decrease health risks to you and your unborn baby.

If you suspect that a preventable medical mistake caused your child’s cerebral palsy, our team at LawFirm.com can help connect you with a top cerebral palsy lawyer. To start the process, call (888) 726-9160.

FAQs About the Causes of Cerebral Palsy

What are the main causes of cerebral palsy?

There are different reasons why children develop cerebral palsy. One leading cause is brain damage from insufficient oxygen before, during, or soon after birth. Prematurity is another common cause.

There are other factors related to the mother and baby. For example, when the mother has a virus such as cytomegalovirus, chickenpox, or rubella, the infection can cause inflammation and harm the baby’s developing brain.

Infants with bacterial meningitis and untreated jaundice are more likely to develop cerebral palsy.

Is cerebral palsy caused by a birth injury?

Yes, sometimes cerebral palsy is caused by a birth injury. While many birth injuries are minor and need no treatment, others, like cerebral palsy, can be more serious.

And while some birth injuries occur naturally, medical errors are to blame for others. Preventable birth injuries are often considered medical malpractice or negligence.

Can a stroke cause cerebral palsy?

When a baby has a stroke inside the womb or soon after birth, they can have bleeding in the brain that leads to brain damage and cerebral palsy.

People have strokes when blood vessels in the brain are blocked or broken. A perinatal stroke is a stroke in a fetus or newborn. It is one of the most common causes of cerebral palsy.

Diagnostic tests that take pictures of the brain can show this condition. Parents may not know that their child has had a stroke until the child is 6 months old or much later. This is often the case when the child does not have obvious symptoms like seizures or breathing problems.

Birth trauma can cause perinatal strokes.

Is cerebral palsy caused by a lack of oxygen at birth?

In some cases, a lack of oxygen before, during, or right after birth can cause cerebral palsy and other birth injuries. A lack of oxygen and blood flow to the brain — a condition known as birth asphyxia — can have catastrophic consequences for newborns and their families.

The amount of damage usually depends on how long the baby has been without oxygen and how quickly a doctor or other medical professional gives the proper treatment. While some children recover fully, others, including those with cerebral palsy, may have permanent health problems.

Birth asphyxia can result from a long or difficult labor, a maternal infection, or problems with the placenta or umbilical cord.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Causes and Risk Factors of Cerebral Palsy.” Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/cp/causes.html. Accessed August 31, 2022.
  2. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Screening and Diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy.” Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/cp/diagnosis.html. Accessed August 31, 2022.
  3. Child Neurology Foundation. “Perinatal Stroke.” Retrieved from: https://www.childneurologyfoundation.org/disorder/perinatal-stroke/#. Accessed August 31, 2022.
  4. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Cerebral Palsy.” Retrieved from: https://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/cerebral-palsy. Accessed August 29, 2022.
  5. Mayo Clinic. “Cerebral palsy.” Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cerebral-palsy/symptoms-causes/syc-20353999. Accessed August 29, 2022.
  6. Seattle Children’s. “Birth Asphyxia.” Retrieved from: https://www.seattlechildrens.org/conditions/birth-asphyxia/. Accessed August 31, 2022.
  7. University of Rochester Medical Center. “TORCH Panel.” Retrieved from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=167&contentid=torch_panel. Accessed August 30, 2022.
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