Rh Disease May Lead to Cerebral Palsy

While not necessarily a risk factor of CP itself, if untreated, Rh incompatibility can cause serious birth injuries which could then lead to the development of cerebral palsy.

Cerebral Palsy Caused by Rh Disease

Rh Disease and Cerebral Palsy

Rh disease is a hemolytic disease of the newborn (HDN) caused by an incompatibility between the Rh negative blood of the mother and the Rh positive blood of her unborn child. Rh disease occurs in approximately 13 percent of pregnancies, and if not identified and treated by medical professionals, it can potentially lead to anemia, erythroblastosis fetalis, hydrops fetalis, severe jaundice or Kernicterus, and the development of neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy.

For this reason, checking the blood types of both the mother and baby during pregnancy is of great importance. Doctors must look for and identify Rh incompatibility in order to ensure that necessary preventative treatments are followed when necessary. If the doctor fails to check for or identify blood type compatibility issues, they may open themselves up to liability in the form of a medical malpractice claim brought by the family.

Understanding Blood Typing and Rh Incompatibility

Blood typing is used to identify the proteins (or lack thereof) in the red blood cells of an individual. Blood type is categorized by A, B, AB, or O, as well as by Rh factor. Blood containing the Rh antigen is referred to as Rh positive (Rh+), while blood lacking the Rh antigen is referred to as Rh negative (Rh-).

When a mother is Rh- and the baby is Rh+, there’s a risk that the mother can be exposed to the infant’s blood (most-often during labor) which would lead to the development of antibodies to fight and destroy these “foreign” cells. In some cases (especially in subsequent pregnancies), the mother’s antibodies can cross the placental wall to attack the Rh positive cells of the baby during pregnancy.

Blood Incompatibility Complications

Hemolytic disease of the newborn (HDN) is a serious complication of blood type incompatibility, and can lead to severe jaundice. Babies who are born with severe jaundice have a buildup of excess bilirubin; a byproduct of the breakdown of red blood cells. It is this buildup of bilirubin that leads to the yellow color of the skin and whites of the eyes.

In healthy babies, the liver processes the bilirubin and sends it to the intestines, but when a baby has HDN, the liver is not always able to keep up. Jaundice (if severe enough or left untreated) can cause a type of brain damage known as kernicterus.

Prevention vs. Treatment

Like anything else, prevention is the best course of action. If prenatal testing finds a blood type incompatibility, preventative measures can be taken to avoid serious complications. The course of treatment includes injections of proteins that prevent the antibodies of the mother from attacking the red blood cells of the baby.

With today’s medical technology, complications due to Rh incompatibility are entirely preventable. If you feel that your child’s cerebral palsy was the result of Rh disease, it’s advised that you speak to a cerebral palsy lawyer about your legal options.