Causes of Cerebral Palsy

Over seventeen million individuals worldwide live with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is a group of neurological disorders traceable to a brain injury that occurs at some point during an infant or child’s development. Symptoms commonly develop either in infancy or up through preschool. While cerebral palsy may be caused by either brain injury before, during, or immediately after birth or brain development abnormalities in utero, the specific consequences of cerebral palsy and severity of impairment are unique to the individual. Affected children with CP may display rigidity of the limbs or trunk, abnormal reflexes or posture, poor motor skills, difficulty walking or swallowing, eye problems, blindness, deafness, epilepsy, or some combination of these symptoms. Parents and caregivers alike should be aware of a number of possible causes of cerebral palsy, explained in greater detail below.

What Causes Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy can be caused by genetic or environmental factors, including injuries suffered during pregnancy, labor, or delivery. The two primary causes of CP are: brain injury or malformation during brain development. A child’s brain begins developing before they are born and continues in the first few years of life. As such, any disruption to brain development due to injury or genetics may lead to permanent brain damage and resulting cerebral palsy. Some of the leading causes of cerebral palsy in children are as follows:

Infection or Illness

If a pregnant woman suffers from an infection during pregnancy, studies have shown that the infection can be passed along and ultimately cause brain damage to the child. Some examples of maternal infection affecting pregnant women are rubella, chickenpox,  zika virus, cytomegalovirus, HIV or AIDS, and mercury poisoning. When a woman’s infection detrimentally affects the development of the child’s brain, it may cause cerebral palsy. Similarly, if an infant develops an illness like bacterial meningitis or viral encephalitis, these conditions cause inflammation of membranes around the spinal cord or brain and may lead to cerebral palsy. Severe or untreated jaundice can also lead to cerebral palsy.

Birth Asphyxia

If a problem with the uterus, placenta, or umbilical cord limits the flow of oxygen to a baby’s brain, that lack of oxygen—known as birth asphyxia—can cause the newborn to suffer a number of birth injuries, including cerebral palsy. For example, placental abruption, umbilical cord knotting, and/or prolonged labor can all reduce the amount of oxygen received by the baby. The degree and likelihood of brain injury from birth asphyxia depends on how long the baby is without sufficient oxygen, the baby’s age, and the medical care that the baby receives before, during, and after the oxygen deprivation takes places.


Mothers sometimes suffer seizures during childbirth due to preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a pregnancy disorder in which high blood pressure or other organ dysfunction can adversely affect the health of a pregnant mother and her child. If the mother’s preeclampsia goes undiagnosed, untreated, or is mismanaged during birth, an unborn child can suffer a number of complications, including cerebral palsy.

Complications Caused by Delivery Assistance Tools

In some complicated deliveries, obstetricians or other medical personnel may use delivery assistance tools like vacuum extractors, forceps, and similar implements to hasten childbirth. Improper use of these tools can cause injury to the infant, and such injury can cause the baby to develop cerebral palsy.

How do I Find out what Caused my Child’s Cerebral Palsy in NJ?

Determining the exact cause of cerebral palsy is often difficult. Any one of the conditions listed above may be insufficient on its own to cause an injury triggering cerebral palsy, but when combined with another complication, that combination of factors may damage the infant’s brain severely enough to cause cerebral palsy. In many cases, a healthcare provider’s mistakes aggravates an otherwise manageable condition, which ultimately results in CP. For instance, failure to order an emergency C-section when necessary can allow birth asphyxia to occur and persist, causing permanent brain damage to an otherwise healthy child. There are numerous examples of situations in which medical negligence paves the way for cerebral palsy. When a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional is responsible, victims and their loved ones can pursue compensation through legal action.

More Information about Cerebral Palsy & Medical Negligence:

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