What Causes Cerebral Palsy

What Causes Cerebral Palsy?

What Causes Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral Palsy is a group of disorders that affect movement and muscle tone or posture and are caused by damage to the developing brain, most often before birth. Individuals with cerebral palsy will generally have recognizable symptoms beginning during infancy or preschool years, such as impaired movement, spasticity of the limbs, and unusual posture and movement patterns. The cause of cerebral palsy and its effect on movement, the mind, and the body vary greatly among individuals with the disorder. The Special Olympics Arizona team is breaking down these disorders: what cerebral palsy is, what symptoms it causes, and treatments for the disorder.

What Causes Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is caused by abnormal brain development during fetal development or early infancy or damage to the developing brain that can occur before, during, or after birth. In many cases, the exact cause of cerebral palsy is not able to be determined due to the large number of factors that can lead to issues with brain development. Some potential causes include:

  • Gene Mutations: In some instances, there are gene mutations that can result in brain developmental issues or differences in brain development during pregnancy or after birth.
  • Maternal Infections: Infections that a pregnant mother contracts may affect the fetus and cause issues with fetal brain development.
  • Fetal Stroke: In cases of fetal stroke, the disruption of the blood supply to the brain of the fetus during development can cause cerebral palsy.
  • Brain Bleed: Bleeding into the brain during pregnancy or as a newborn can cause brain damage.
  • Infant Infections: Infections that affect oxygenation to the brain, such as meningitis, can cause developmental issues early after pregnancy or in the early years of a child’s life.
  • Traumatic Head Injury: A traumatic head injury that occurs to an infant or baby, such as a motor vehicle crash, a fall, or physical abuse, can cause brain development issues.
  • Lack of Oxygen: A lack of oxygen to the brain during birth or delivery, while much less common than historically thought, can cause issues with brain development.

Cerebral Palsy Risk Factors

There are a number of factors that are associated with an increased risk of having a child develop cerebral palsy.

Maternal Health

Certain infections or exposures that affect a mother during pregnancy can increase the risk of cerebral palsy for the baby. Infections or health issues that affect a mother and, in turn, can affect the baby include:

  • Cytomegalovirus: This common virus presents as flu-like symptoms and is known to cause birth defects, especially if a mother has her first presentation of symptoms during her pregnancy.
  • German Measles: Also known as rubella, this virus can cause birth defects and is entirely preventable with a vaccine.
  • Herpes: An active herpes infection can pass from mother to child during pregnancy and affect the health of the womb and placenta.
  • Syphilis: is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection that can cause birth defects and developmental issues in a fetus.
  • Toxoplasmosis: This infection is caused by a parasite that is found in infected soil, food, and feces of animals that have been infected.
  • Zika Virus: This viral infection is known to cause birth defects when contracted or in mothers who have been exposed for a certain amount of time before getting pregnant.
  • Intrauterine Infections: Infections that affect the placenta or womb can potentially cause fetal brain developmental issues.
  • Other Conditions: Other conditions that a mother can be exposed to, such as preeclampsia, seizures, or thyroid problems, can all increase the risk of baby developing CP.

Infant Illness

Illnesses in a newborn baby can greatly increase the chances of the baby developing CP, especially as they are going through the surge in brain development that occurs early in life. Illnesses that increase the chances of brain development issues include:
Bacterial Meningitis: This severe bacterial infection is known to cause inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, causing severe risks and damage.

  • Viral Encephalitis: Similar to meningitis, this infection causes inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord and can cause damage to the brain.
  • Severe Jaundice: Jaundice is yellowing of the skin caused by byproducts in the blood being left unfiltered and can cause brain damage when left untreated.
  • Brain Bleeding: This condition is commonly caused by a baby having a stroke in the womb or soon after birth.

Pregnancy and Birth

There are some factors of pregnancy and birth that can increase the chances of a child having CP, including a birth weight lower than 5.5 pounds, multiple babies sharing the uterus, such as twins or triplets, babies who are born prematurely, and complications during birth and delivery.

How Common Is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is the most common physical disability affecting children worldwide. It is estimated that in every 700 births, a child with cerebral palsy will be born, and there are 17 million people worldwide living with the disorder.

Is Cerebral Palsy Inherited?

While familial cerebral palsy is uncommon, there are some statistics that indicate a very small number of cases are genetic and therefore inherited. Researchers generally believe that more than an inherited case of cerebral palsy, a genetic predisposition to certain risk factors, such as premature birth and heart problems, will cause a baby to be at a higher risk of having brain developmental issues and developing cerebral palsy.

Can Cerebral Palsy Be Prevented?

Many cases of cerebral palsy are congenital, and the causes of them are unknown. However, there are certain actions parents can take before, during, and after birth to reduce the risk factors for their child developing cerebral palsy.

Before pregnancy, parents should strive to be as healthy as possible. A healthy parent has a better chance of having a healthy pregnancy and carrying to full-term, which reduces the risk of CP. Getting vaccinated to avoid contracting preventable infections during or before pregnancy will also greatly reduce the risk of infection-related CP.

During pregnancy, it is important to research how to have a healthy pregnancy. This involves eating the proper foods, avoiding potentially dangerous contaminants or toxins, and getting early and regular prenatal care to protect you and your baby. Washing your hands regularly and contacting your healthcare provider at the first sign of illness, infection, or fever can help you avoid contracting an infection that will harm your baby.

After your baby is born, taking them to regular doctor’s appointments to keep track of their health is important to ensure they are growing and developing on track with their age. Doing everything in your power to prevent injuries can help your child avoid brain damage, such as buckling your child into their seat in the car, making your home child proof with things like window and table guards, watching your child closely around bodies of water and in the bathtub, and making sure your child wears head protection when doing things like riding a bike.

Cerebral palsy is not preventable, but reducing the risk for your child is the best course of action to ensure a healthy and happy life.

Is There a Cure for Cerebral Palsy?

There is no cure for cerebral palsy, but there is a wide range of treatments that are available to help your child live a happy and healthy life, no matter their diagnosis. Working with a team of doctors early on in the CP diagnosis will help you determine your best options, which may include surgery, medicine, physical, speech, and occupational therapies, and special education in school.

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