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Causes of Cerebral Palsy

mother and child holding handsCerebral palsy is caused by damage to a baby’s brain, either before, during, or after birth. Cerebral palsy causes seizures, irregular or jerky movements, muscle stiffness, speech difficulties, mental impairment, and other serious disabilities. It is a life-long affliction that requires continual care, therapy, and extra services for the child throughout his or her lifetime. In cases where medical errors during pregnancy or child birth are the causes of cerebral palsy, there may be legal recourse to recover the many expenses associated with caring for the child.

What causes cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy occurs when there is damage to the nerve cells in the brain. The brain becomes unable to deliver the proper signals to muscles to make them move, which leads to the symptoms of cerebral palsy.

In some instances, cerebral palsy is caused by medical error during pregnancy. Failure to detect or properly treat infections such as meningitis in the mother during pregnancy can lead to cerebral palsy. Medical error during child birth is also often one of the causes of cerebral palsy.  Cerebral palsy can result from a condition called hypoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain) or asphyxia (lack of oxygen to the body) during birth.

Various problems during delivery can cause cerebral palsy, including:

  • Detachment of the placenta, uterine rupture, or problems with the umbilical cord during birth.  These can disrupt the oxygen supply to the baby
  • Failure to appropriately monitor fetal heart rate before and during labor and birth
  • Excessive force during delivery, often caused by improper use of the labor inducing drug Pitocin
  • Failure to perform or delay in performing a medically necessary cesarean section procedure
  • Negligence and unreasonable mistakes in using instruments like vacuum and forceps in performing a delivery
  • Failure to properly manage birth complications like breech presentation, premature birth, and oversized or underweight babies.

Babies also can be born with cerebral palsy through no fault of doctors. The abnormality in brain development that causes cerebral palsy in most cases is beyond the control of doctors. Often, the exact trigger of this abnormality is unknown.

Factors that can lead to abnormal brain development include:

  • Random mutations in genes that control brain development
  • Maternal infections that affect the developing fetus
  • Fetal stroke, which is a disruption of the blood supply to the developing brain
  • Infant infections that cause inflammation in or around the brain
  • Traumatic head injury to an infant from a car accident or fall

Signs of cerebral palsy

In trying to determine whether a child has cerebral palsy, doctors will assess his or her symptoms.

Symptoms of cerebral palsy include:

  • Delays in reaching developmental milestones, such as sitting up, crawling and walking
  • Slow growth or weight gain
  • Jerky or irregular movements of the arms or legs
  • Lack of coordination
  • Difficulty with speech or eating

Doctors will take full medical histories of both parents and may also do genetic testing to rule out genetic diseases, nerve disorders, and muscle diseases. Doctors will also consider whether there are any risk factors for cerebral palsy.

Risk factors for cerebral palsy include:

  • Low birth weight. Children who weigh less than 5 ½ lbs at birth, especially those who weigh less than 3 lbs, 5 ounces, have a greater chance of having cerebral palsy.
  • Premature birth. Babies who were born before the 37th week of pregnancy, especially if they were born before the 32nd week of pregnancy, have a greater chance of having cerebral palsy.
  • Multiple birth. Twins, triplets, and other multiple births have a higher rate of cerebral palsy.  Some, but not all of the increased risk is due to the fact that children born from multiple pregnancies are often born early or with a low birth weight.

Eligibility to file a cerebral palsy lawsuit

Families who are raising a child with cerebral palsy are under a tremendous amount of pressure as they plan for the lifetime of care that a person with cerebral palsy requires. The family of an individual with cerebral palsy is likely to incur significant expenses related to the ongoing need for medical care, special education services, and assisted living.

If you believe your child’s cerebral palsy was caused by medical error, the attorneys at Eisbrouch Marsh can assist you. In cases where reasonable medical care could have prevented the injury, parents may be able to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.  We can review the circumstances of your pregnancy and delivery and determine if you are eligible to pursue legal damages. We have a registered nurse on staff who can assist in reviewing the details of your case.

The attorneys at Eisbrouch Marsh have won substantial settlements for victims of birth injury malpractice. We are available for a free consultation, and will not charge any fees unless you win your case.  Families of children with cerebral palsy should be aware, however, that statutes of limitation govern malpractice suits. This means that there are deadlines in each state that may bar a child’s right to obtain benefits.

  1. Mayo Clinic, Cerebral palsy causes,

  2. Web MD, Understanding cerebral palsy: the basics,

  3. CDC, Causes and Risk Factors of Cerebral Palsy,

  4., Cause of Cerebral Palsy,

  5. Livestrong, Hypoxia of a newborn,