Cerebral Palsy Causes

According to the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation, cerebral palsy (CP) is the leading congenital disorder in the nation, affecting  around 500,000 children and adults in the United States and 17 million people worldwide. Cerebral palsy causes can vary greatly depending on the type of cerebral palsy the person has. In some instances, the cause of CP is unknown. While CP doesn’t worsen as a child grows older and the symptoms can usually be managed with ongoing therapy and treatment, there is still no known cure for the disability. However, in order to help your child manage CP as successfully as possible, it’s important to understand the causes and what form your child has.

Congenital Cerebral Palsy Causes

If an infant develops cerebral palsy before or during childbirth, it’s considered congenital CP. This form of CP is marked by development before birth. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), congenital CP is the most common form of cerebral palsy.  The most common causes of congenital CP include:

  • Infections While Pregnant: Infections such as cytomegalovirus (CMV), chicken pox,  and rubella may increase the chances of an infant developing CP as these diseases increase cytokins, tiny proteins that act as receptors in the body. When cytokins are released in substantial amounts, it can lead to infant brain damage, which in turn can lead to CP. Mothers with high fevers and/or a urinary tract infection also run the risk of their infant developing CP. 
  • Twins or Multiple Births: The birth of more than one baby increases the chances of CP due to, in most cases, low birth weight.
  • Low Birth Weight: Infants under five pounds are at an increased risk of developing CP,  with infants under three pounds being the highest risk group. Since most infants who are born prematurely typically weigh five pounds of less, premature babies are also at risk.
  • Infertility Treatments: Since many infants born after infertility treatments tend to be born premature with low birth weights, the risk for CP is increased.
  • Jaundice: There is a common misconception that jaundice is a minor medical that won’t pose any long-term medical problems. However, if left untreated, jaundice can cause a host of serious problems, including a heightened risk of developing CP.
  • Birth Problems: Uterine rupture, placental problems, and umbilical cord problems can all lead to an increased risk of the infant developing CP.
  • Chorioamnionitis: A study performed by San Diego’s University of California revealed that chorioamnionitis present in the womb during pregnancy increases the risk of an infant developing CP by up four times.
  • Incompatible Blood: Incompatibility of blood types between a mother and infant can lead to an Rh factor diseases, increasing the risk of CP. However, if a physician detects the blood incompatability in time, the mother can be given a Rh immune globulin injection starting at around the 28 week of pregnancy.

Acquired Cerebral Palsy Causes

Acquired CP occurs when an infant develops brain damages at least 28 days or more after birth. Acquired CP happens much less often when compared to congenital CP. In fact, acquired CP affects around 20% of all people who’ve developed the disorder. The most common causes include:

  • Low Birth Weight: Similar to congenital CP, low birth also increases the risk of acquired CP.
  • Blood Flow Problems: Blood flow problems, particularly to the brain, heightens the risk of acquired CP. Common blood flow problems to brain can occur because of blood clotting, unformed blood vessels, sickle cell diseases, and/or heart defects.
  • Traumatic Head Injuries: Traumatic head injuries can happen when an infant is dropped, is in an accident, or falls. If brain damage occurs after a traumatic brain injury, acquired CP may follow.

Brain Damage

Brain damage whether before, during, or after birth can lead to CP. In the past, many physicians believed that CP was related to brain damage that occurred during birth because of asphyxiation. This in part is true, with at least 1 out of every 10 infants developing CP after suffering from asphyxiation. However, recent research shows that brain damage that occurs before birth can also lead to CP. There are a few different ways that brain damage occurs during birth that heightens the risk of developing CP.

Mothers must be monitored frequently during pregnancy, especially if they have any infections or high blood pressure. Both infections and high blood pressure may lead to infant brain damage, which in turn can lead to CP. In addition, abnormal brain development during pregnancy can lead to CP. Abnormal brain development can occur due to a maternal infection, mutations in the genes, or trauma to the baby’s head.

Medical Negligence

Even though several cases of CP are caused without reason, there are many instances in which physicians failed to properly identify medicals issues and/or failed to use the correct actions during and birth birth to reduce the risk. The most common reasons CP occurs because of medical negligence include:

  • Failure to properly monitor and asses the fetal heartbeat during and after delivery
  • Failure to schedule and provide a timely C-section
  • Failure to detect and treat maternal infections
  • Failure to use birth-assisting tools correctly, such as forceps or a vacuum extraction tool
  • Failure to correct umbilical cord problems, such as a prolapsed cord
  • Failure to supply oxygen in a timely manner to an asphyxiated infant
  • Failure to monitor respiratory and oxygen treatments

Preventative Tips

It’s not easy to determine if an infant will develop CP. One slight medical mishap could lead to a lifetime of medical problems and cognitive issues. There are steps, however, to ensure that you’re taking preventative measures to reduce the risks of your baby developing CP:

  • Get regular prenatal care. If you have any concerns about your health, do not hesitate to ask your physician. Seek a second medical opinion if you feel uncomfortable in any way regarding your pregnancy care.
  • Ensure that you’re up to date on your vaccinations. As aforementioned, maternal rubella and chicken pox can lead to your baby developing CP.
  • Reduce your risk of infections by washing your hands regularly and practicing good hygiene.
  • Make sure that you know your blood type. Rh incompatibility can jaundice, which can lead to CP.