What Causes Cerebral Palsy?


How To Get Your Free Initial Consultation

To start an evaluation of your case, please complete the form below. The more information you can provide, the better able we will be to determine if we can help you.

We will review the information and let you know by email shortly if we may be able to handle your matter and what the next steps may be.

*This web site is designed for general information only. The information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship.

What Causes Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a medical condition that involves muscle contractions and involuntary reflexive movements in some or all of the body. The condition affects posture, muscle tone, coordination, and fine motor skills. The neurological symptoms of cerebral palsy can range widely, from mild muscle movements to debilitating seizures, vision and hearing problems, and intellectual disabilities.

Cerebral palsy is associated with brain development or injury before, during, or after birth. Various types of brain damage can cause different types of cerebral palsy.

What Causes The Brain Damage That Leads To Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is caused when the developing brain is damaged. There are several ways that damage can occur. For instance, an infection may impede the neurological development of the neurons and synapses of the brain, or there may be trauma during childbirth or in early infancy.

Some of the common causes of a disruption in a child’s brain development are:

  • Premature birth – Babies born prematurely (before the 37th week of pregnancy and particularly before the 32nd week) have an increased risk of developing cerebral palsy. Advances in intensive care for premature infants over recent decades have significantly enhanced survival rates for babies born very early. However, despite improved chances of survival, many premature infants still face medical challenges that increase the risk of developing cerebral palsy.
  • Prenatal infections in the mother – Infections can be passed from mother to unborn child during pregnancy and are most dangerous in the first month after conception. For example, rubella (German measles), cytomegalovirus (CMV), and bacterial infections of the placenta or fetal membranes during pregnancy are known to be associated with cerebral palsy. These infections can cause the baby’s brain to swell, which disrupts normal brain development.
  • Asphyxiation during or after birth – Asphyxiation occurs when a lack of oxygen reaches the brain. It can cause varying degrees of brain damage depending on how long the brain is without sufficient oxygen. When asphyxiation happens during childbirth, it may be caused by medical mistakes or malpractice, but there are other ways it can occur for which no one is directly responsible. Early placental detachment, ruptured uterus, or the umbilical cord being twisted or pinched can also prevent oxygen from reaching the infant’s brain. After birth, choking on an object or near-drowning can also cause asphyxiation, leading to cerebral palsy.
  • Brain trauma during or after birth – Brain injuries can happen during labor and delivery (medical mistakes or otherwise) that can cause cerebral palsy. Additionally, blunt trauma to an infant's or toddler's brain can also lead to the condition.
  • Brain hemorrhage in fetuses – A ruptured blood vessel in an unborn baby’s brain can cause the brain to bleed, which can lead to damage in the motor-control centers of the brain.
  • Infections in newborns – When a newborn baby contracts an infection in the central nervous system (brain or spinal cord), it can cause damage that leads to cerebral palsy.
  • Untreated jaundice – Jaundice occurs when there is an excess of bilirubin, a chemical pigment that the liver normally filters out, is present in the body. It causes the skin and eyes to turn yellow. While it is fairly normal for some newborns to have mild cases of jaundice before their livers are fully developed, when severe cases are left untreated, a condition called kernicterus can occur. This condition is characterized by an accumulation of unsafe levels of bilirubin, which is toxic to the brain.

It typically takes doctors up to 18-24 months to diagnose cerebral palsy. However, it could take longer if the child only has a mild case. It isn’t always possible to determine the exact cause of cerebral palsy, but there are tests, scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that may reveal damage in the brain that provide clues to the cause.

Birth Injuries That Lead To A Child Developing Cerebral Palsy

About 10 percent of cerebral palsy cases occur due to injuries at birth. Asphyxiation is the most common cause of these birth injuries, and it happens most frequently in delivery rooms. Even though medical care – including obstetric care – is better than it has ever been, there are many cases of cerebral palsy that could have been prevented. Medical errors, neglect, or malpractice cause these injuries. Some of the circumstances that can lead to birth injuries include failing to:

  • identify umbilical cord irregularities.
  • detect a decrease in the heart rate of the baby.
  • properly treat severe jaundice.
  • identify potential risk factors.

These situations result from not performing proper medical procedures in the delivery room and can lead to cerebral palsy. The medical professionals who cause these types of mistakes or neglect can often be held accountable for their errors in a medical malpractice claim.

Is There A Cerebral Palsy Treatment?

Cerebral palsy doesn't have a cure, but treatments help people with the condition stay active and independent. Generally, a team of healthcare professionals will take care of children and adults with cerebral palsy. They create a plan for care and support, which they adjust as needs change over time.

As people with cerebral palsy get older, their needs may change. For example, problems with bones and joints can affect movement. That is why regular check-ups with the healthcare team are important throughout life.

Finding Legal Help For Cerebral Palsy Cases

Some cases of cerebral palsy are caused by medical mistakes or negligence, and parents of children with the condition may be able to obtain a financial recovery by holding medical professionals legally accountable for the mistakes.

Ross Feller Casey is an experienced law firm with an unmatched track record of winning medical malpractice cases involving cerebral palsy. We have leading doctors on staff to look at medical records to determine if your child’s condition was caused by medical mistakes or negligence.

All of our cases are handled on a contingency basis, so you will not have any charges until you receive a financial award for your case. Contact Ross Feller Casey today and let one of our leading cerebral palsy attorneys review your case for free.

About the Author

Scott S. Berger, Jr. joined Ross Feller Casey in 2015 and concentrates his practice on representing catastrophically injured victims of medical malpractice and defective products.

Scott Berger

Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.