Most medical conditions and disabilities rarely occur in a vacuum. They are often connected to other conditions, especially in cases that involve the brain. Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of disabling neuromuscular disorders that are the result of injuries to a baby’s brain that occur before, during, or after birth. Since CP is a disability that affects the cerebellum and other parts of the brain, it is closely linked to a variety of other medical conditions that have adverse effects on a baby’s health and quality of life.
Congenital Conditions Linked to Cerebral Palsy
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 80% and 90% of all cases of CP are caused by congenital conditions. That is, most occurrences of the brain injury happen during pregnancy. Per the CDC, there are several risk factors and/or conditions that are linked to CP acquired before or during the birth process, including:
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
- Multiple births
- Assisted reproductive technology (ART) infertility treatments
Keep in mind that even if any of these risk factors are involved in a baby’s birth, it doesn’t automatically mean that cerebral palsy will affect the infant. It just means that the chances of such an occurrence are more likely when the aforementioned risk factors are present.
CP can sometimes be caused by hemorrhages, or bleeding, within an infant’s skull. This medical emergency is known as intracranial hemorrhage (ICH) and it happens when a vein or artery within the skulls leaks or breaks. ICHs can be caused by traumatic events such as a head injury or non-traumatic causes such as a neonatal stroke or cerebrovascular accident (CVA). Intracranial hemorrhages are more likely to affect extremely premature babies and are often the result of poor blood flow to the brain (ischemia) or low amounts of oxygen in a baby’s blood (hypoxia).
Intracranial hemorrhages can be caused by pressure on a baby’s skull during the passage through the birth canal. They can also occur if a doctor or other medical staff member drops a baby during or after delivery and causes a traumatic head injury.
There are three types of intracranial bleeding:
- Epidural hemorrhages, which are caused by traumatic injuries to the head, occur between the skull and the outermost layer of the cerebral meninges (the protective layers covering the brain) the dura mater
- Subdural hemorrhages, which occur when bridging veins break apart in the subdural area between the dura mater and the arachnoid mater below
- Subarachnoid hemorrhages, which occur between the arachnoid level of the meninges and the pia mater below
Jaundice is a condition that is often present in newborns shortly after birth. It is caused by a buildup of a chemical called bilirubin in a baby’s blood. When excessive amounts of bilirubin collects in a newborn’s body, the skin and sclera (whites) of the eyes develop a yellowish hue. Although jaundice is common, it’s important to note that despite popular myths, jaundice is not always safe and will not always heal on its own. If too much bilirubin builds up in the baby’s system, brain damage can occur.
For additional information on the dangers of jaundice, refer to our story Infant Jaundice: More Harmful Than You May Think.
Kernicterus is a medical condition caused by severe cases of jaundice that aren’t treated in a timely manner. Excessive amounts of bilirubin can seep out of the baby’s blood and pool inside delicate brain tissue. The collections of bilirubin on a baby’s brain leave yellow stains on the surface. Since bilirubin is a toxic substance to the sensitive cells of the cerebellum, it triggers brain damage that causes cerebral palsy and other complications, including hearing loss.