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What are the causes of cerebral palsy?

There are many factors that can lead to the diagnosis of cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy is caused by a brain abnormality or injury that usually occurs during pregnancy or a botched labor and delivery. There are several factors that can lead to problems with brain development.

Problems during labor and delivery:

  • Lack of oxygen to the baby during labor and delivery
  • Detachment of the placenta
  • Improper use of delivery tools such as forceps and vacuums
  • Random mutations in the genes that are linked to brain development
  • Infections in the mother during pregnancy
  • Traumatic head injury during the infant months that can result from a car accident or fall
  • Brain infection during the first months of years of life (such as meningitis)

There are certain risk factors that make it more likely a baby will be diagnosed with cerebral palsy:

  • Doctors who do not recognize an abnormal fetal heart beat on the monitor and put off immediate action can cause the baby to go without oxygen for too long a period of time, which can result in a brain injury.
  • Premature babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, and who weigh less than 3 1/2 pounds are more likely to develop cerebral palsy at a rate between 20 and 80 times more than a full term baby. The cause is often bleeding in the brain.
  • Severe jaundice may also cause cerebral palsy by building up a pigment called bilirubin in the blood. Most causes of jaundice are extremely mild and do not require medical intervention, but if a case becomes too severe without treatment, the result can be brain damage and cerebral palsy.
  • Doctors and midwives can prevent some cases of cerebral palsy by keeping a constant watch on the fetal monitor. Lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain will result in a distressed heart rate.

Determining if there is a causal connection between poor medical care and cerebral palsy

While not every circumstance involving the diagnosis of cerebral palsy will give rise to a legal claim, many jurisdictions allow parents to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit on behalf of their injured child if their injury can be related to negligent care during prenatal care, labor or delivery.  A medical malpractice lawyer experienced in birth injury cases can review the child’s medical chart and determine if a claim may be warranted.

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