Causes of Cerebral Palsy

The term cerebral palsy encompasses a group of neurological disorders that are either congenital or acquired after birth. Cerebral palsy is not caused by a single factor, but rather by a series of risk factors.

Congenital cerebral palsy, a condition caused by a brain injury during intrauterine life or during the birthing process, accounts for 90% of the cerebral palsy cases in the U.S. (Acquired cerebral palsy accounts for the other 10%.) This type of cerebral palsy is usually the result of brain damage that occurs during the first few months to years of life.

Congenital Cerebral Palsy Risk Factors

Although there is no known cause for cerebral palsy, there are several risk factors that may increase the chance of an infant developing the disorder. The following are risk factors for congenital cerebral palsy:

  • Rh incompatibility – a condition characterized by Rh negative blood in the mother and Rh positive blood in the fetus. When this occurs, the mother’s immune system develops antibodies to the fetus’s blood that may cross the placenta and attack the developing fetus’s red blood cells. A woman’s first child is usually not affected by this incompatibility because it takes time for the mother to develop the antibodies, but subsequent children who are Rh positive will be at risk.
  • Measles – German measles in pregnant women can result in brain damage to the fetus.
  • Toxoplasmosis – a parasitic infection in the mother that can cause brain damage in the infant.
  • Bacterial infection – an infection in the mother or fetus that attacks the infant’s central nervous system can cause irreparable damage to the brain.
  • Premature birth – Premature babies miss some of the most important stages of development. They are also at a higher risk for fetal distress, respiratory distress syndrome, and other conditions that lead to brain injury.
  • Low birth weight – although it is not known why, infants with a low birth weight are more likely to develop cerebral palsy than those of normal birth weight.
  • Jaundice – severe jaundice can lead to destruction of brain tissue in infants.
  • Lack of oxygen during birth – may lead to brain cell damage.

Other factors that can lead to congenital cerebral palsy include the inability of the placenta to provide oxygen and nutrients to the developing fetus and the absence of growth factors during intrauterine life.

Many of the risk factors listed above can be prevented with proper medical treatment. However, medical malpractice and negligence can and does occur. Instances of negligence include:

  • Ignoring signs of fetal distress
  • Failing to treat severe jaundice (also see kernicterus)
  • Failing to immunize a woman who has not had measles and is likely to become pregnant
  • Failing to treat Rh incompatibility
  • Failing to prevent a premature birth

Acquired Cerebral Palsy Risk Factors

Brain damage that occurs during the first few months to years of life is most often the result of one of two factors: a brain infection in the infant or child that attacks the central nervous system or a head injury.

Brain infections that can lead to cerebral palsy include bacterial meningitis and viral encephalitis. These can often be prevented with proper immunizations during the child’s early development.

Some of the most common causes of child head injury include:

  • Child abuse – children who are physically abused may sustain brain damage as a result of prolonged abuse or a particularly violent attack. One example of this is Shaken Baby Syndrome.
  • Falls – infants and children who fall from cribs, the top of a staircase, or off of playground equipment may develop the brain damage that is characteristic of acquired cerebral palsy.
  • Car accidents – improperly positioned or defective car seats are a common cause of head injury to children involved in auto accidents. In addition, children not riding in a car seat are more likely to sustain serious injuries in a crash.

Please keep in mind that this is not a complete list of the risk factors that can lead to development of cerebral palsy. Understanding the causes of cerebral palsy can often be confusing and stressful, especially when it involves medical malpractice.

Cerebral Palsy Lawsuits

If cerebral palsy occurred as a result of medical negligence on the part of the doctor, nursing staff, or other health care professionals you may be able to seek financial compensation by filing a cerebral palsy lawsuit.

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