What Causes Cerebral Palsy

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The term cerebral palsy is used to define a number of different neurological disorders. These disorders generally appear in infancy or early on in childhood development, and generally affect muscle control, coordination, and body movement. While the damage is irrevocable, it typically does not worsen over the years. Although there is no treatment to cure the condition, early intervention with therapies such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy can improve a child's motor function, movement, and speech capabilities.

There is no one particular cause of cerebral palsy, but rather, a variety of causes. Congenital cerebral palsy typically occurs as a result of brain injury while a fetus is still in the uterus. This type of cerebral palsy is present when a baby is born, but it can go undetected for some time. Congenital cerebral palsy accounts for approximately 70 percent of cerebral palsy cases. There is no one event that triggers the problem; instead, it may be the result of infections incurred by the mother during gestation, jaundice, premature birth, or as a result of brain damage occurring during a birth injury.

Viruses such as German measles, or rubella, can infect the developing fetus in a pregnant woman and cause damage to the developing nervous system. Brain injury in the fetus may also be caused by other infections such as cytomegalovirus (CMV) and toxoplasmosis. Infections of the placenta may also cause the condition.

Jaundice is another cause of cerebral palsy. If left untreated at birth, severe jaundice can damage the brain tissue and nervous system. Jaundice is a condition produced when excess amounts of bilirubin circulating in the blood stream dissolve in the subcutaneous fat, or the layer of fat just beneath the skin, which causes a yellowish appearance of the skin and of the whites of the infant's eyes. With the exception of physiologic jaundice, which is a condition not uncommon to some newborns, all other jaundice indicates a problem with the liver, such as liver damage or an overload to the organ. Any jaundice in an infant, child, or adult should always be evaluated by a physician.

Congenital cerebral palsy also includes infants who receive a permanent brain injury during the labor process. These are caused by an interruption of normal blood flow or oxygen flow before or during labor, or during the first hours or days after delivery. This type of injury is typically sustained during transit through the birth canal. The likelihood of injury increases when the birth canal is too small, or the fetus is too large or is not ideally positioned before birth, such as with breech delivery. Caesarean births are generally preformed to try to prevent any injury during the birthing process. If a caesarean section is not performed in time, the infant may not receive enough oxygen to the brain, causing damage and possibly resulting in cerebral palsy.

In situations where the baby is having difficulties traveling down the birth canal or where the mother is too exhausted to push any longer, the doctor may need to use forceps or a vacuum to help pull the baby from the birth canal. A vacuum extraction is the method doctors prefer to use and comes with several risk factors.

In a vacuum extraction, a cup attached to a vacuum pump is placed on the head of the baby. The cup can be made of either plastic or metal and can vary in rigidity or softness. Rigid cups are more likely to result in successful assisted deliveries, but are also more likely to cause injuries to the baby. A vacuum pump then creates the suction or vacuum seal in the cup needed to help pull the baby out of the birth canal.

In some cases, the vacuum extraction causes a condition called caput succedaneum. This is where the tissue on the scalp of the baby swells and bruises. In most cases the condition will go away on its own, but jaundice can occur when the swelling starts to recede and the bruise breaks down into bilirubin.

If you believe that your child's cerebral palsy is the result of medical malpractice or a preventable birth injury, it is in your best interest to contact a lawyer that specializes in birth injury. The lawyer will be able to judge if you have a viable claim for compensation from negligence and will be able to guide you through the process of filing a credible claim.


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