What are the Known Causes Cerebral Palsy?
Simply put, brain damage causes cerebral palsy. This brain damage can occur before, during or after birth. Most cases of cerebral palsy occur as a result of a difficult childbirth, and are frequently the result of medical malpractice.
Cerebral palsy (CP) is a term used to describe a group of disorders characterized by a disruption of motor control. When areas of the brain responsible for movement, balance and muscular control either develop incorrectly or are damaged, the child can develop a neurological condition known as cerebral palsy.
The part of the brain which is damaged determines the symptoms of cerebral palsy. The severity of the symptoms is directly related to the severity of the brain damage.
Cerebral palsy can be the result of natural causes, but is most-frequently caused by birth trauma. Sometimes, brain damage occurs early in the pregnancy as a result of problems with blood supply to the fetus’ brain. Sometimes, damage to the brain occurs shortly after birth. However, most birth injuries occur during labor or delivery, often due to the child’s blood supply being cut off for several minutes.
Risk Factors for Cerebral Palsy
- Anesthesia Errors – Improperly-administered anesthesia (such as an epidural) can lead to serious harm to both the mother and child, and can result in brain damage leading to the development of cerebral palsy.
- Asphyxiation, Strangulation, or Respiratory Distress during Delivery – One of the most common causes of CP is the infant having their oxygen supply (blood flow) cut off in the womb or during delivery.
- Birth Injury – In most cases, the root cause of cerebral palsy can be traced back to an injury the child sustained during childbirth, often leading to brain damage.
- Brain Damage Caused During Pregnancy – Certain factors can lead to complications during pregnancy, which can result in infant brain damage and cerebral palsy.
- Brain Damage Caused During Labor or Delivery – The majority of children born with cerebral palsy suffer brain injuries during labor and delivery, often due to medical mistakes.
- Brain Damage Caused after Birth – Any type of damage to a baby’s developing brain, even after being born, can result in the development of CP.
- Breech Birth – A baby in a breech position can cause complications due to difficulty in navigating through the birth canal.
- Cephalopelvic Disproportion – This refers to when a baby’s head or body is too large to safely pass through the mother’s pelvis.
- Drug Interactions – Certain drugs given to expectant mothers, such as Pitocin and Betamethasone, have been linked to an increased risk of cerebral palsy — as have fertility drugs like Clomid.
- Fetal Acidosis – Where a lack of oxygen causes lactic acid builds up in the child’s bloodstream and tissues, potentially leading to brain cell death.
- Forceps / Vacuum Delivery – Misuse of these assistive delivery instruments can cause head injuries that often result in cerebral palsy.
- Hypoxia or Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) – Often referred to as intrapartum asphyxia, hypoxia is the medical term for oxygen deficiency caused by low blood flow.
- Infections during Pregnancy – Certain infections in the mother, including Rubella, cytomegalovirus, and toxoplasmosis can lead to elevated levels of proteins called “cytokines,” which cause inflammation and can lead to brain damage in the baby.
- Insufficient Oxygenation – When a baby’s blood supply is cut off, especially for several minutes, permanent brain damage can easily occur.
- Intraventricular Hemorrhage (IVH) – Any hemorrhage (bleeding) in the brain can lead to permanent brain damage, the development of cerebral palsy, or even death.
- Jaundice, Hyperbilirubinemia & Kernicterus – Jaundice (the yellowish color seen in the skin of many newborns) occurs when a chemical called bilirubin builds up in the baby’s blood. If left untreated, it can cause a type of brain damage called kernicterus which can develop into CP.Bile pigments in the blood stream leftover from blood cells destruction build up and damage brain cells.
- Low Amniotic Fluid – Low levels of amniotic fluid (oligohydramnios) can restrict the fetus’ lungs from growing, and could result in nuchal cord injuries or a breech birth.
- Low Birth Weight – The risk of cerebral palsy is higher among babies who weigh less than 5 lbs., 7 1/2 oz.
- Medical Malpractice – In many cases, cerebral palsy is the direct result of medical malpractice on the part of the physician, a nurse, or healthcare provider.
- Missed Cesarean Opportunity – When a C-section is warranted but not performed in time, leading to permanent brain damage.
- Multiple Births – Twins, triplets, and other multiple births are linked to an increased risk of cerebral palsy.
- Necrotizing Enterocolitis – Some cases of cerebral palsy have been linked to a dangerous and sometimes fatal birth injury known as necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).
- Nuchal Cord – Which occurs when the umbilical cord becomes wrapped around the baby’s neck during pregnancy or delivery.
- Parental Age – Women under the age of 18 years old are more likely to have children who may suffer from cerebral palsy than others. Additionally, older mothers are likely to have children who have genetic mutations, that are born prematurely or to develop problems with their health during pregnancy.
- Periventricular leukomalacia (PVL) – Which involves the necrosis (death) of the brain’s white matter due to a lack of oxygenated blood reaching particular areas of the child’s brain.
- Placenta Previa – Placenta previa is a complication in which the placenta rests on the pregnant woman’s cervix. This unnatural placental placement can cause significant bleeding or hemorrhaging before and during the delivery process.
- Placental Abruption – On occasion, the placenta separates from the uterine wall before the baby is ready for delivery. During a total placental abruption, there will be no oxygen delivered to the baby from the mother.
- Preeclampsia – Mothers who experience pre-eclampsia or pregnancy-induced hypertension (PE or PIH) while pregnant have a higher overall risk of their child developing cerebral palsy, especially in premature births.
- Premature Birth – The risk of cerebral palsy is higher among babies who are born less than 37 weeks into pregnancy.
- Prolonged or Difficult Labor – Prolonged labor during the second stage of delivery often correlates to an increased risk of the child developing CP.
- Rh Disease – Rh disease is a condition caused by the baby and mother having incompatible blood cells. The fetus can become severely jaundiced and brain damaged as a result.
- Strokes – Neonatal or fetal strokes can cause massive damage to a baby’s developing brain, resulting in an elevated chance of permanent neurological damage.
- Surgical Errors – Many times, birth injuries that lead to the development of cerebral palsy are caused by preventable surgical errors related to anesthesia or c-sections.
- Umbilical Cord Prolapse – A prolapsed umbilical cord refers to the cord becoming compressed during labor, effectively cutting off the oxygen supply to the child’s brain.
- Unsanitary Hospital – Infections contracted by the mother or child while at an unsanitary hospital can result in damage to the child’s developing brain.
- Uterine Rupture – An obstetric complication which can lead to blood loss, oxygen deprivation, and ultimately, brain damage leading to cerebral palsy.
- Vaginal Birth after Cesarean Section (VBAC) – Delivering vaginally following a previous C-section carries with it the risk of uterine rupture and hemorrhaging.
How a Lawyer May be Able to Help
If a doctor or hospital’s negligence caused harm to your child, your family deserves to be compensated. Cerebral palsy can put incredible strain on a family, and treatment can cost upwards of $1 million.
If your child’s cerebral palsy was caused by medical malpractice, why should this financial burden fall on the family? To discuss your family’s legal options, contact a cerebral palsy attorney.