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Cerebral Palsy Explained

Michael H. Bereston

Cerebral Palsy Explained: Birth Injury or Genetics?

Abnormal development of the brain or damage to the brain during its development can cause cerebral palsy. There are many reasons for abnormal development or damage to the brain. One of the reasons there is damage to the brain before, during or after birth may be because of a lack of oxygen or blood flow due to medical negligence.

There are some known risk factors for cerebral palsy. These include:

  • Birth weight less than 2,500 grams at birth and there is an additional risk if birth weight is less than 1,500 grams

  • Prematurity especially if born prior to 32 weeks gestation

  • Twins, triplets or multiple births

  • Infections—viral infections such as chickenpox, rubella, cytomegalovirus as well as bacterial infections of the placenta, uterus or other maternal organs

  • Medical conditions of mother that are undiagnosed or not treated may affect the blood and oxygen flow to the baby

Is Cerebral Palsy preventable?

Cerebral palsy that is due to genetics is not preventable. However, during the process of birthing the lack of oxygen may cause Cerebral Palsy. This can most times be prevented by the labor and delivery staff at the hospital.

In order to lower the risk factors for cerebral palsy, keep yourself healthy before and during your pregnancy. During your pregnancy, have open discussions with your healthcare providers regarding any risk factors you may have and follow the advice of your healthcare providers to promote a healthy environment for the baby.

As labor and delivery approaches, make sure that healthcare providers and the hospital you select for labor and delivery are equipped with staff educated in the signs and symptoms your baby may show if hypoxia occurs in order to prevent injury from hypoxia and/or ischemia. If you have questions, before, during or after the labor and delivery, ASK QUESTIONS of the staff and your healthcare provider.

When is Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?

During the hospitalization at the time of birth, the healthcare providers for the baby will monitor closely for signs of injury if risk factors were present or if there were signs the baby was lacking oxygen or blood supply during the labor and/or birth. The term hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy or HIE is a term that is used when an injury to the brain of the baby from lack of oxygen and/or blood flow causes brain injury. Other terms used to describe this includes perinatal asphyxia, intrapartum asphyxia, and neonatal encephalopathy.

HIE can cause cerebral palsy, seizures, vision and hearing loss, cognitive and motor difficulties.

As children age from infants to toddlers, they begin to hit certain milestones in their development. One of the most notable is when they are able to smile and push themselves up while laying on their stomachs. Once a child is several months old, they begin to stand and even walk shortly thereafter. If babies are unable to reach expected developmental milestones, doctors can then investigate to determine why this is happening.

Cerebral palsy affects individuals depending on what area of the brain has been injured which means doctors can’t simply look at symptoms and automatically diagnose a child with the condition. It’s necessary to closely examine each child and their development or lack thereof. This includes motor skills, speech, autonomy, and independence.

In some cases, a doctor may tell parents they have a concern about cerebral palsy after childbirth due to certain factors. If there are complications during labor or delivery, the baby might be at a higher risk of developing the condition. Babies who are born prematurely are particularly at risk, especially if they develop jaundice that is left untreated. Other problems that can lead to cerebral palsy include infections like meningitis or trauma during delivery.

Missing Milestones

However, if there are no risk factors involved, the doctor must closely examine the child’s development. It’s common for parents to note certain issues with their children, such as not learning to crawl during the normal age or a lack of muscle tone. Parents who notice anything unusual must report their observations to their pediatrician immediately. These are known as missed milestones in the child's development.

[ Click here to open our Missed Milestones infographic in a new tab]

On average, babies should begin to walk between 12 and 18 months and begin to speak in basic sentences or phrases by two years old. In some cases, cerebral palsy may affect only one side of the body or only the arms or only the legs.

Diagnosis in Children

A definitive cerebral palsy diagnosis generally depends on the child’s age. However, certain factors may determine a diagnosis, including the following:

Severity: If severe symptoms are present in a child, notably their inability to control their movements, it may be possible for a doctor to diagnose cerebral palsy earlier in the child’s life.

Parental involvement: In many cases, the doctor will rely on parents to tell them about the symptoms they have witnessed their babies experiencing.

Type: Certain types of cerebral palsy are easier to diagnose.

Generally speaking, babies with severe cerebral palsy can be diagnosed within only a few months, but some babies are not diagnosed until their first birthday. If the condition is mild, the child may not be diagnosed until around three or four years old.

Tests for Cerebral Palsy

There are certain tests doctors can use to diagnose cerebral palsy in children. Overall, most of these are imaging tests that allow for a view into the brain. Doctors typically see the area in the brain that has suffered trauma and then make a definitive diagnosis. These are a few tests used:

•MRI: An MRI is noninvasive and can produce 3D images of the brain. This is the most common imaging used for this purpose and may be used in combination with an MRA or MRV (spectroscopy) that looks at blood flow in the brain)

•CT scan: A CT scan takes X-rays from many angles and shows images of the brain.

If your child developed cerebral palsy after a birth injury or medical negligence, you need legal assistance from an experienced nationwide birth injury attorney. Michael H. Bereston is an experienced birth injury attorney who will fight to protect your rights and your child’s and help you get the compensation you deserve.

Contact The Law Firm of Michael H. Bereston today (410) 220-6581 to see how we can help.

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Mother kissing her baby's feet