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What Is Cerebral Palsy and What Causes It?

Contrary to popular belief, cerebral palsy isn’t a single condition or disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s a “group of disorders that affect movement and muscle tone or posture.” As the name implies, it involves the brain, and typically develops due to brain damage that occurs during early development, or even during delivery.

Children affected with cerebral palsy are typically diagnosed as infants or later during their preschool years, as they will show telltale symptoms, including:

  • Impaired movement
  • Abnormal reflexes
  • Floppiness or rigidity of limbs
  • Abnormal posture
  • Involuntary movements
  • Unsteady walking
  • A combination of these traits

Cerebral palsy is a lifelong disorder. Some children with cerebral palsy ultimately end up being able to walk, while others need assistance. Some people affected by it also may have problems swallowing and focusing their eyes. In addition, the disorder’s effect on cognition varies—some children have normal or near-normal intellect, while others may have cognitive disabilities.

Cerebral Palsy Has Many Causes

Many things can cause cerebral palsy, such as:

  • Genetic factors—When genes mutate during early development, children can have a higher risk of developing cerebral palsy.
  • Maternal infections—Certain types of illnesses in pregnant mothers can put their unborn children at risk of developing this disorder. These infections include:
    • Cytomegalovirus
    • German measles
    • Herpes
    • Syphilis
    • Toxoplasmosis
    • Zika virus
  • Fetal stroke—When fetuses suffer strokes in the womb, the reduced blood supply to their brains can result in cerebral palsy.
  • Infant infections—Very young children are susceptible to serious infections after birth, and when those infections reach the brain, this disease can occur. Infections that increase risk factors include:
    • Bacterial meningitis
    • Viral encephalitis
  • Traumatic head injury—Infants are highly susceptible to traumatic brain injuries from things like car accidents and falls, as well as from birth-assisting tools during delivery such as forceps and vacuum extractors. The subsequent brain damage can cause cerebral palsy.

When Healthcare Providers Miss Warning Signs, Cerebral Palsy Can Occur

Unfortunately, some otherwise healthy infants develop cerebral palsy as a result of injuries they suffer at birth. Sometimes those injuries are unavoidable, but many are due to healthcare provider negligence, both before and during delivery.

Providers should be on the lookout for the following risk factors to reduce infant risk of developing cerebral palsy:

  • Breech position—When babies are positioned feet-first in the womb, their risk of a head injury increases. Healthcare providers should be prepared to perform emergency procedures, including C-sections, for women and infants when this position is known.
  • Low birth weight—Infants with low birth weights at or less than 5.5 pounds are known to have a higher risk of cerebral palsy and should be closely monitored.
  • Premature birth—Babies born at less than 28 weeks gestational age are at a higher risk of developing cerebral palsy, and the risk increases with each week of greater prematurity.
  • Slow heart rate—Babies’ heart rates should be closely monitored before, during, and after delivery. Some birth complications can cause their heart rates to drop to dangerously low levels, which can necessitate emergency C-sections to prevent further harm.

When healthcare providers fail to act or fail to act in time to prevent or mitigate an injury during or shortly after delivery, they can be held responsible for that injury.

Forceful Deliveries Can Increase the Risk of Cerebral Palsy

In addition to detecting and monitoring potential risk factors, healthcare providers should also exercise great caution when assisting with delivery. Sometimes women are unable to deliver babies on their own without medical intervention, but the improper usage of both forceps and vacuum extractors can put babies at risk of head and brain injuries that may cause cerebral palsy.

Another condition similar to cerebral palsy called Erb’s palsy can also occur due to a birth injury. This condition involves paralysis of the upper arm, and it often manifests after difficult births where babies suffer shoulder dystocia, a scenario where a baby’s shoulder gets stuck above the mother’s pubic bone during delivery.

We Help Injured Infants and Their Mothers Get Compensation

Cerebral palsy is a devastating diagnosis for parents of young children. It can be even more difficult when they know their children’s injuries were caused by negligent healthcare providers. It’s up to doctors, nurses, and midwives to do everything in their power to keep infants healthy before, during, and after delivery, and when they fail to do so, they should be held accountable.

At Parrish DeVaughn, our Oklahoma birth injury lawyers work hard to help families affected by cerebral palsy and other birth injuries get maximum compensation. Contact us today for a free consultation. It’s our goal to get you the money you’re owed.