Cerebral Palsy Causes

Many events in our life turn our journey in a new direction, but probably none more so than the birth of a child. Whether it’s your first or third, welcoming a new child into the world is an exciting and nerve wracking experience. Every pregnancy carries risks for both mother and unborn child. Sometimes these risks result in a disheartening diagnosis.

Cerebral palsy is caused by brain damage. It is the most common motor dysfunction disability in children. If your little one was recently diagnosed with cerebral palsy, you may be wondering if it was preventable.

More often than not, cerebral palsy is preventable, if you and your doctor practice due diligence. Making sure you have the healthiest pregnancy and delivery as possible is the best way to ensure the health of your newborn. However, mistakes can and do occur. Some of the mistakes that can cause cerebral palsy are the result of another person’s negligence.

The attorneys of Oshman & Mirisola have handled many birth injury cases, and we want to empower your efforts to make a positive impact in the quality of your child’s life. If you feel your child’s birth injury was caused by medical staff negligence, please contact us today for a free case evaluation.


What Causes Cerebral Palsy

The different types of cerebral palsy correlate to the areas of the brain that have been injured. Four types of brain damage are responsible for causing cerebral palsy. They are:

  1. Periventricular Leukomalacia (PVL)
  2. Intraventricular Hemorrhage (IVH)
  3. Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE)
  4. Cerebral Dysgenesis

These four main causes of cerebral palsy can be linked to either brain injury, brain malformation or birth injury. The distinguishing element is the point at which a child sustains damage to the brain.

When diagnosing cerebral palsy, a brain injury describes a child whose brain was harmed within the first year of life. This injury could be due to a fall, a hit on the head with a foreign object, or something more troubling, such as shaken baby syndrome.

Brain malformation occurs in utero during fetal development. This is also known as cerebral dysgenesis. The human brain begins developing as early as 16 days after conception and continues to grow throughout pregnancy. The brain malformations that manifest as cerebral palsy in children occurs around the 20th week of gestation.

Birth injury describes damage to the brain that occurs during the delivery process. Premature babies who develop cerebral palsy would be considered in this category of causes. Erb’s Palsy is another type of palsy that occurs from trauma to the infant during delivery.

Types of Brain Damage that Cause Cerebral Palsy

We’ve covered the medical terms for the four types of brain damage that cause cerebral palsy, now we can explore more of what they mean.

Periventricular Leukomalacia (PVL) involves damage to the brain’s white matter that is responsible for controlling the body’s motor function. Premature infants are most likely to suffer from periventricular leukomalacia. Upwards of 60% of babies who have PVL are later diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy and intellectual impairment.

Intraventricular Hemorrhage (IVH) is essentially a brain bleed. Hemorrhaging in the brain is particularly dangerous because it causes localized swelling, further damaging this sensitive organ. IVH is most common in premature infants, but can occur in full-term babies.

IVH is further classified by area of the brain where bleeding occurs and the severity of the hemorrhaging. Four types of intraventricular hemorrhages are associated with cerebral palsy in children. Because they involve blunt force trauma and irreversible brain damage, subdural hematomas are the deadliest form of IVH.

Subarachnoid hematomas are the most common form on IVH. An infant who suffers from this type of hemorrhaging typically develops seizures within 24 hours of injury.

Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) is a brain injury caused by lack of oxygen to the brain. Although once thought to be the main culprit responsible for cerebral palsy, HIE is responsible for only about 9% of cerebral palsy cases.

This condition is common in full-term infants who were injured during the birthing process. For example, an infant who is too large for the mother to deliver vaginally could get stuck in the canal and lose oxygen as a result. Umbilical cord abnormalities are sometimes to blame, as well.

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy causes PVL, making it a significant contributing factor to an infant developing cerebral palsy.

Cerebral Dysgenesis is the brain malformation most often responsible for causing CP. It is also called neuronal migration disorder (NMD). In cerebral dysgenesis, neural stem cells are unable to migrate to the proper place. Many congenital syndromes are associated with NMD, so parents whose child has this birth defect are often referred to a genetic counselor.

Congenital Cerebral Palsy

Congenital CP describes brain damage that occurs during fetal brain development or a birthing injury. The cause of Congenital CP by brain malformation, in utero infections, umbilical cord complications, among other factors. According to the Centers for Disease Control, congenital CP is the most common form of CP, accounting for about 90% of all cases.

Risk Factors for Congenital Cerebral Palsy

Your child’s chances of developing congenital CP are increased by the following factors:

  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Heart disease in infants
  • Rh blood incompatibility in mother and fetus
  • Multiple births
  • Maternal infections, such as flu or urinary tract infections
  • Jaundice
  • Umbilical cord abnormalities
  • Bacterial infections in the uterus
  • Infertility treatments

Acquired Cerebral Palsy

Acquired CP is caused by brain injury that occurs more than 28 days after birth. Causes of acquired cerebral palsy include severe infections, heart defects, congenital blood disorders, or head injuries from accidents or child abuse.

Risk Factors for Acquired Cerebral Palsy

The risks for a child developing acquired cerebral palsy are similar to those that cause congenital CP. These include:

  • Low birth weight
  • Prematurity
  • Birth infections
  • Shaken baby syndrome
  • Child abuse
  • Vehicular accidents
  • Severe head trauma

Your Next Steps

Understanding what causes cerebral palsy is just the first step in identifying whether your child has the condition. If your child is missing major developmental milestones, favoring one side of the body, or developing seizures, it’s best you discuss your concerns with your pediatrician immediately. When combined with the conditions described above, it could be a sign your child does in fact have cerebral palsy.

Despite the sometimes overwhelming amount of therapies and medications to treat the condition, many children with cerebral palsy grow up to live full and happy lives. The downside is often the expense of treatment, and the challenge of balancing your child’s needs with the ability to run a household.

The upside is: you’re not alone. The CDC reports that approximately 1 in 323 children in the United States has some form of cerebral palsy. There are numerous resources and support communities for parents and people with CP. This includes the law firm of Oshman & Mirisola.


Our firm has a proven success record of helping parents, just like you, seek justice for medical malpractice that caused a child’s birth injury. If you feel your child’s cerebral palsy was the result of medical staff negligence, please contact us today.

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