What are the Risk Factors for a Child Developing Cerebral Palsy?

pregnant-womanCerebral palsy is the most common childhood motor disability. It affects around 1 in 323 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is no single cause of cerebral palsy. Several events, medical conditions, and pregnancy complications can contribute to the development of cerebral palsy in an infant. Development of cerebral palsy can occur in gestation, shortly after birth, or in the first few years of a child's life. The following are some of the known risk factors for a child developing cerebral palsy.

Low Birthweight

Congenital cerebral palsy stems from brain damage that occurs before birth or during the birthing process. Up to 90 percent of cerebral palsy cases are congenital. Oftentimes, doctors cannot identify the specific cause of congenital cerebral palsy. For some children, however, it is due to low birthweight, premature birth, or multiple births.

Low birth weight may increase the odds of cerebral palsy, especially in children weighing less than three pounds at birth. Premature birth comes with a risk of low birthweight, as well as other health complications that could cause cerebral palsy. Children born before 32 weeks have greater odds of developing the condition. Multiple births have a higher risk of cerebral palsy, partially due to the risk of premature birth and low birthweight.

Birth Complications

Many cerebral palsy cases arise due to complications during birth, such as umbilical cord prolapse, abnormal presentation, complicated delivery, shoulder dystocia, emergency C-sections, or premature separation of the placenta. Oftentimes, the source of the problem is a lack of oxygen to the baby's brain (cerebral hypoxia) during a complicated birth, which can impact brain development.

Maternal Infections

Numerous studies have shown certain infections in the mother can increase the risk of cerebral palsy in the infant. Infections can increase the number of cytokine proteins in the brain and blood of the baby, potentially causing inflammation and brain damage. Some of the most common infections connected with cerebral palsy are rubella, chickenpox, toxoplasmosis, cytomegalovirus, herpes, pelvic infections, and other bacterial/fungal infections and viral diseases.

Infertility Treatments and Assisted Reproductive Technology

Infertility treatments, including those using assisted reproductive technology, can give children greater odds of having cerebral palsy. This increased risk usually connects to the higher chance of multiple births, premature delivery, and/or low birthweight.

Severe Jaundice or Kernicterus

Shortly after birth, some babies can experience jaundice. Jaundice occurs when too much bilirubin builds up in the infant's blood. If left untreated, jaundice can become severe and turn into kernicterus. This condition is serious and can damage the baby's brain - possibly leading to the development of cerebral palsy.

Blood Problems

Problems with the mother's blood can increase the risk of cerebral palsy. Blood clotting, or thrombophilia, is one problem connected to cerebral palsy. Blood type incompatibility is another. If a mother and her infant have incompatible blood types, this can cause the mother's immune system to attack the baby's blood cells (including those in the brain), potentially causing cerebral palsy.

Blood type incompatibility can take the form of Rh or A-B-o. An Rh incompatibility means the mother has a different Rh factor (either Rh negative or Rh positive) than the baby. An A-B-o incompatibility happens when the mother's blood is type O, but the baby's is type A or B. Both incompatibilities can cause the same reaction: the mother's immune system may attack the baby's red blood cells.

Trauma After Birth

Acquired cerebral palsy makes up the remaining 10 percent of cases. Acquired cerebral palsy can arise out of brain damage that occurs about a month after birth. Serious infections in the infant after birth or a traumatic brain injury could cause acquired cerebral palsy. Loss of blood flow to the brain (e.g., from a stroke, heart defect, or deformed blood vessels) after birth could also cause cerebral palsy.

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