Cerebral Palsy Risk Factors: What Causes this Birth Injury?

cerebral palsy risk factors

Cerebral palsy is one of the most common disabilities affecting motor function in children and infants. It’s estimated that roughly 10,000 infants are born annually with cerebral palsy in America. 

In the majority of instances, cerebral palsy occurs during pregnancy. Around 20% of the time, the condition is caused by injuries during birth. Cerebral palsy is a serious birth injury that will affect your child’s entire life.

Keep reading to learn the cerebral palsy risk factors that can lead to the condition and what can be done to prevent it. 

What is Cerebral Palsy? 

Cerebral palsy is a birth injury causing a condition that affects motor function and muscle coordination. The condition is most often caused by injuries to the brain during pregnancy or childbirth. 

The condition occurs when damage is made to the area of the brain that governs movement. In most cases, CP is not diagnosed until a child is at least 18 months old. 

The vast majority of children affected have a specific form of the condition called spastic cerebral palsy. With this form of the condition, muscles become extremely stiff, making it difficult to move.

Sometimes, both legs are affected which impedes the child’s ability to walk. Another manifestation of the condition only affects one side of the body.

The most severe form of cerebral palsy is known as spastic quadriplegia, which affects all four limbs. This severe form often affects the muscles in the mouth as well, which makes speaking and swallowing extremely difficult. 

Along with muscle impairment, people affected by cerebral palsy often experience additional problems including learning disabilities, seizures, and problems with hearing, vision, and speech. 

The second most common form of the condition is known as dyskinetic cerebral palsy. It is very similar in nature to spastic quadriplegia as it affects the entire body including the muscles in the mouth. 

The third and rarest manifestation of the condition is known as ataxic cerebral palsy, which has an extreme effect on balance and coordination.

Those affected with ataxic CP will have extreme difficulty with anything that requires fine motor skills like writing. 

Cerebral Palsy Risk Factors

Most commonly, cerebral palsy occurs when something happens during pregnancy to damage or disrupt the development of the brain. It can happen during pregnancy, during childbirth or in the first years of an infant’s life. 

It can be caused by certain infections in an expecting mother during pregnancy. Rubella (also known as German measles), can be a huge risk factor if diagnosed during pregnancy. 

Parasitic infections including toxoplasmosis or infections to the placental membranes during pregnancy can also be to blame.

Preterm labor is another risk factor for cerebral palsy. Approximately 1 to 2 percent of premature babies develop cerebral palsy. 

Infections in the reproductive system or in the urinary tract can potentially lead to early birth, which can increase the likelihood. Premature labor is not a sure sign of cerebral palsy, but it is a factor that increases the likelihood of the condition.

Babies who are very premature and weigh less than 3 pounds at birth are much more likely to develop CP. This is due to the lack of development in the brain’s movement centers. 

One of the most common risk factors of cerebral palsy is when the infant doesn’t get enough oxygen during labor and delivery. This can happen when the placenta is not properly connected to the uterus, or the infant is asphyxiated during birth. 

Risk Factors Part Two 

Other risk factors for CP are blood disease and severe and/or untreated jaundice. A blood disease known as Rh disease occurs when the blood of the mother and the fetus are incompatible with one another. 

Rh disease can cause severe jaundice and severe damage to the brain. Luckily, Rh can be prevented by monitoring Rh levels in expectant mothers and giving them injections if they are Rh-negative. 

If a woman is Rh-negative and gives birth to an Rh-positive baby, often they will continue to receive the injections after birth to ensure the ongoing health of the mother. 

Jaundice is relatively common in infants and is luckily treatable. If left untreated, however, jaundice can quickly turn severe and can increase the chances of the infant developing cerebral palsy. 

How to Prevent Cerebral Palsy

In the vast majority of cases, it’s hard to identify the exact cause of cerebral palsy. This makes it difficult to file a medical negligence lawsuit against a delivery doctor or nurse.

In some cases though, it is obvious that a lack of oxygen during delivery is to blame. In cases of CP developing during pregnancy, it is hard to determine the exact cause of the condition. 

A good precaution to take to prevent CP is to get vaccinated before and during pregnancy for infections like rubella. Also, understanding your Rh-levels can allow doctors to administer the proper injections during pregnancy. 

Take extra care to remain healthy during pregnancy. Mothers who were healthy before pregnancy and continued to maintain good health throughout their pregnancy are much less likely to have a child with cerebral palsy. 

Visit your doctor regularly and stay informed on the development of your fetus. Ask questions when you don’t understand things, and make sure to stay on top of vaccinations. 

Alcohol, drug, and tobacco use can increase the chances of your child developing cerebral palsy. So be sure to stay away from these toxic substances during your entire pregnancy, including when breastfeeding. 

Cerebral Palsy Treatment

Luckily, there are many resources available to help children and families affected with the various forms of cerebral palsy. In many cases, braces or casts along with physical therapy can increase the affected person’s quality of life drastically. 

There are drugs available to help with muscle spasms, including injections of botox. Botox injections can help relax the muscles and reduce levels of spasticity for months at a time.

A promising new surgical development has been implemented recently that involves implanting a pump under the skin that administers and anti-spasm drug. 

The Bottom Line

Life with cerebral palsy is undoubtedly harder. But it’s not impossible to live with the condition and have a good quality of life.

Cerebral palsy risk factors can be largely avoided by getting the proper vaccinations and maintaining good health before and during pregnancy.

If you think you’ve been a victim of medical malpractice, visit our blog for more information about filing a lawsuit.