Cerebral Palsy Found in 4% Less Births in 2005 Than 1990

Operating RoomCerebral palsy is one of the most common motor disorders affecting children before or at birth. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are more than 200,000 cases of the disorder each year. Classified as a disorder of motor movement and muscle tone, cerebral palsy is a condition directly caused by damage to the brain. This damage can occur during development, during the process of labor or delivery, or even within the first month or so of a child’s life.

Typically, the signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy present within the first few months of life, but more mild cases may not present until the preschool years. Generally, cerebral palsy leads to abnormal reflexes, muscle rigidity or hypotonia, involuntary movements of the muscles, an abnormal gait, or any combination of these. Each case of cerebral palsy is unique, and children may contend with a variety of comorbidities that affect other aspects of development such as gross and fine motor control, speech, and socialization.

A person with cerebral palsy may also have additional struggles such as issues with swallowing or tracking objects visually. Also common are reduced range of motion and comorbid conditions such as scoliosis, lordosis, or cognitive impairment. Chronic pain and difficulty ambulating are common symptoms of the disorder. While many children with cerebral palsy display normal or near normal intellectual capacity, others may struggle academically.

Treatment for Cerebral Palsy

Due to the wide range of possible complications that may arise with a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, treatment is often multi-disciplinary and intensive. Children can expect to receive physical, occupational, and speech therapy. They may also need orthotic devices or assistive devices for walking or otherwise ambulating. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to control involuntary muscle movements, seizure activity, or improve range of movement constricted by muscle rigidity.

This common condition has lifetime consequences and can be difficult to manage. On the other hand, a recent study shows that the number of children being born with cerebral palsy has actually decreased in recent years.

Lowered Incidence of Cerebral Palsy

Since 2000, Netherlands researchers have been monitoring the incidence, or the number of new cases, of cerebral palsy. They published their results in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2005. In the period between 1990 and 2005, they found a 4% decrease in births resulting in a diagnosis of cerebral palsy.

Researchers found a few possible explanations for the lowered incidence of cerebral palsy in the study:

  • Fewer instances of cystic periventricular leukomalacia (C-PVL) and intraventricular, hemorrhage, two types of brain damage commonly associated with cerebral palsy. In fact, most infants who experience c-PVL receive a diagnosis of cerebral palsy with associated cognitive impairment.
  • Improvements in antenatal antibiotics. Specifically, some kinds of maternal infections increase the likelihood of a diagnosis of CP. By treating these infections with antibiotics during pregnancy, it effectively reduces the risk of having a child with the condition.
  • Increased use of arterial lines in neonates needing intensive care.
  • Increased incidence of C-sections, which can help improve outcomes in children who experience fetal distress during labor.

The study looked at 3000 infants born between 1990 and 2005, all of whom were born prematurely (before 37 weeks gestation, and a risk factor for cerebral palsy). In 1990, around 6.5% of these births led to a diagnosis of cerebral palsy; in 2005, that decreased to 2.2% of births.

Better Outcomes for Infants

Cerebral palsy can be unavoidable in some cases, but in others it results from negligent medical care. One of the leading causes of brain damage is oxygen deprivation during delivery, which in most cases is preventable. Proper monitoring of a mother and fetus during labor and delivery can improve chances of a healthy outcome, including mitigating risk factors for cerebral palsy.

A diagnosis of cerebral palsy may also result from umbilical cord abnormalities, uterine rupture, placental abruption, or other anatomical abnormalities of pregnancy. Quality prenatal care plays an important role in identifying the presence of these abnormalities. With proper monitoring, both a pregnant mother and a provider can take steps to mitigate circumstances that would lead to a dangerous delivery. For example, high-risk mothers may have a C-section instead of attempting a vaginal birth to avoid the possibility of oxygen deprivation during delivery.

Cerebral Palsy, a Preventable Medical Condition

The results of this study reflect a simple truth: that in many instances, cerebral palsy is preventable. Parents and providers alike can proactively manage circumstances that would otherwise lead to a dangerous situation for an infant. It’s essential for doctors and other medical professionals to identify risk factors for cerebral palsy and mitigate them as much as possible. With care and attention, we can reduce the incidence of cerebral palsy even further. With further research, outreach, and advocacy, we can reduce the number of parents who face this diagnosis for their children.