Cerebral Palsy

What Is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy (CP) results from damage to the fetal or infant brain that causes a group of disorders affecting movement, posture, sensation, perception, development, and cognition. The disorders appear in the first few years of life and affect muscle tone, gait, and manual dexterity. People with cerebral palsy may have difficulty walking or performing manual tasks. Some have other medical conditions, including seizure disorders or mental impairment.

The four major subtypes of CP are spastic, athetoid, ataxic, and mixed cerebral palsy, with the spastic form being the most common. The motor disorder may range from difficulties with fine motor control to severe muscle spasticity in all limbs. Spastic diplegia is the most common subtype and is characterized by spasticity more prominent in the legs than in the arms.

Some babies are born with cerebral palsy; others develop it after they are born. There is no cure for cerebral palsy, but treatment can improve the lives of those who have it. Treatment includes medicines, braces, and physical, occupational and speech therapy.

What Are The Common Causes Of Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy happens when the areas of the brain that control movement and posture do not develop correctly or are damaged. There are several possible causes for this abnormal development or brain damage. These common causes of cerebral palsy can happen before birth, during birth, within a month after birth, or during the first years of a child’s life, while the brain is still developing.

The majority of CP is congenital (meaning that it is present from birth), and in many cases, the specific cause is not known. However, certain conditions in pregnancies carry an increased risk for cerebral palsy and which require monitoring. Risk factors for cerebral palsy include:

  • Low birth weight –Children who weigh less than 5 1/2 pounds at birth, and especially those who weigh less than 3 pounds, 5 ounces have a greater chance of having CP.
  • Premature birth –These are children born before the 37th week of pregnancy; those born before the 32nd week of pregnancy carry an even greater risk of having CP. Intensive care for premature infants has improved a lot over the past several decades; babies born very early are more likely to live now, but many have medical problems that can put them at risk for CP.
  • Multiple births –Twins, triplets, and other multiple births have increased risk for CP, especially if a baby’s twin or triplet dies before or shortly after birth. Some, but not all of this increased risk is because children born from multiple pregnancies often are born early, with low birth weight, or both.
  • Assisted reproductive technology (ART) infertility treatments – Most of the heightened risk for children born through infertility treatments is explained by preterm delivery, multiple births, or both—scenarios that are common with ART.
  • Infections during pregnancy – Infections can lead to increases in certain proteins called cytokines that circulate in the brain and blood of the baby during pregnancy. Cytokines cause inflammation, which can damage the baby’s developing brain. Fever in the mother during pregnancy or delivery also can cause this problem. Some types of infection that have been linked with CP include viruses such as chickenpox, rubella (German measles), and cytomegalovirus (CMV), and bacterial infections of the placenta or fetal membranes, or maternal pelvic infections.
  • Jaundice and kernicterus – Jaundice is the yellow color discoloration of skin or the white of one’s eyes when a chemical called bilirubin builds up in the baby’s blood. When too much bilirubin is present, the skin and whites of the eyes might look yellow, or jaundiced. When severe jaundice goes untreated for too long, it can cause a condition called kernicterus, which can lead to CP and other conditions. Kernicterus may also result from ABO or Rh blood type differences between the mother and baby, causing the baby’s red blood cells to break down too fast.
  • Maternal medical conditions of the mother – Mothers with thyroid problems, intellectual disability, or seizures have a slightly higher risk of having a child with cerebral palsy.
  • Birth complications – Detachment of the placenta, uterine rupture, or problems with the umbilical cord during birth can disrupt oxygen supply to the baby and result in CP.

What Are The Symptoms Of Cerebral Palsy?

Symptoms of cerebral palsy will appear during infancy or the toddler years. Parents or medical practitioners may notice exaggerated reflexes, floppy or spastic limbs and trunk, unusual posture, unsteady gait, involuntary movements, or a combination of any of these.

People with cerebral palsy may have difficulty walking. They may also have trouble with tasks such as writing or using scissors. Some have other medical conditions, including seizure disorders, problems swallowing, eye muscle imbalance, or intellectual impairment.  Blindness, deafness, or epilepsy may also be present.

Early symptoms of cerebral palsy usually appear before three years of age. Babies with cerebral palsy are often slow to roll over, sit, crawl, smile, or walk.

What Are The Lasting Effects Or Complications Of Cerebral Palsy?

There is no cure for cerebral palsy, but treatment and accommodative devices can improve the lives of those who have it. Depending on the severity and location of the brain injury, the motor, sensory and cognitive deficits can vary from mild to severe, with focal to global deficits.

Although the neurological injury associated with CP does not progress, adults with CP may develop secondary musculoskeletal and neurological symptoms as they age. These include severe pain, chronic fatigue, and a premature decline in mobility and function. Other potential complications of cerebral palsy in adults are stress fractures, tendonitis/bursitis, and subluxations or dislocations, including hip subluxation.

By optimizing the treatment with supportive physical and cognitive therapies, improvements in the performance of daily activities and function are obtained to mitigate the lasting effects of cerebral palsy. In a supportive environment, children and adults with cerebral palsy can maximize their abilities and live full, meaningful lives.

Contact An Experienced Birth Injury Attorney

In order to identify those cases of cerebral palsy that are the result of malpractice, an experienced birth injury law firm with the relevant skill and expertise is required to identify those cases that are the result of negligence.  In most birth injury cases we handle at Britcher, Leone & Sergio, an in-depth review of all the obstetrical and neonatal care is necessary to determine if the child’s injuries were caused by malpractice. With our experienced NJ birth injury attorneys, you’ll have the expertise of a physician attorney and an experienced birth injury trial attorney to handle your case and maximize your chance for success.