What Causes Cerebral Palsy?


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Cerebral palsy is a medical condition that involves muscle contractions and involuntary reflexive movements in some or all of the body. The condition affects the posture, coordination, and balance of the individual who has it. The 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. There are various types of brain damage that 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 neurological development of the neurons and synapses of the brain, or there may be trauma during childbirth or after.

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

  • 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) and cytomegalovirus (CMV) 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 there is a lack of oxygen reaching 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 baby’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 or toddler 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 (such as meningitis), it can cause brain 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.
  • Genetic causes – There is ongoing speculation and research that suggests that there a very small number of cerebral palsy cases that are hereditary, though if this proves to be true, the number of cases is negligible.

It typically takes doctors up to 18-24 months to diagnose children with 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 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. These injuries are caused by medical errors, neglect, or malpractice. 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

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.

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.

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.