Cerebral Palsy: How Does It Happen and Can It Be Avoided? April 27, 2023.

Cerebral Palsy: How Does It Happen and Can It Be Avoided?

Understanding Cerebral Palsy

What is cerebral palsy? It is a type of disorder that affects the patient’s ability to move, maintain balance, and stand. Cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability found in childhood. It is caused by damage to the brain that affects the person’s ability to control their muscles. Cerebral palsy symptoms vary depending on severity, although they generally do not worsen over time.

People with cerebral palsy have problems moving and standing, but they may also have learning or other mental disabilities, vision or hearing impairment, speech disorders, scoliosis or spinal disorders, and joint trouble.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact causes of cerebral palsy are unknown. It may be due to abnormal brain development prenatally or congenital defects due to genetic damage. Up to 90% of all cerebral palsy cases are due to congenital defects.

A small percentage of cerebral palsy cases, probably less than 10%, is due to damage that occurs during or after birth, such as an infection like meningitis, or head trauma. It was once thought that lack of oxygen or disruption in the blood supply during birth was the cause of cerebral palsy, but doctors no longer believe this is the case.

Symptoms and Types of Cerebral Palsy

There are four types of cerebral palsy. They can vary in severity and co-exist with other forms of motor and mental disabilities.

  • Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common, affecting about 80% of those with cerebral palsy. Those with this form have increased muscle tone, meaning their muscles are stiff. They may have diplegia/diparesis, meaning their legs are most affected, hemiplegia/hemiparesis, which affects one half of the body, and quadriplegia/quadriparesis, which is the most serious and affects all four limbs.
  • Dyskinetic cerebral palsy causes erratic muscle tone in the hands, arms, feet, and legs. It may also affect the face and tongue. People with this type of cerebral palsy have difficulty walking or sitting still and may have trouble talking or swallowing.
  • Ataxic cerebral palsy affects balance and coordination. It may cause people difficulty with movements requiring fine motor control, such as writing or playing a musical instrument. Ataxic individuals may appear drunk when they walk or reach for objects.
  • Mixed cerebral palsy combines more than one type. The most common is spastic-dyskinetic cerebral palsy.

Prevention and Risk Reduction

Because the exact cause of cerebral palsy is unknown, there are no exact ways to prevent it. However, there are some things that can be done to minimize the risk and limit the chances in those cases where genetics and congenital causes are not the primary cause of cerebral palsy

Importance of Prenatal Care

Some of the risk factors for cerebral palsy that are not congenital are:

  • Low birth weight. Children who weigh less than 5.5 pounds at birth have a greater chance of cerebral palsy, and those who weigh less than 3 pounds are at a much higher risk. 
  • Premature birth. Coupled with low birth weight, premature infants, especially those born before the 32nd week of pregnancy, have a much greater risk of cerebral palsy. Although low-birth-weight and premature infants are more likely to survive than formerly, they are at much higher risk of developmental problems that may lead to cerebral palsy.
  • Multiple births. Twins, triplets, and other multiples have a greater chance of cerebral palsy, possibly due to low birth weights and early delivery. However, for reasons that are not clear, the chances are greater if one or more of the twins or triplets dies during or after birth.

Minimize the Risk of Maternal Infections

What affects the mother can affect the baby. It used to be thought that the placenta protected the developing fetus from maternal infections, but no longer. Some infections that can harm the fetus and potentially cause cerebral palsy include:

  • Chickenpox, rubella, and “fifth disease.” These rash diseases were nearly eradicated but have made something of a comeback due to the anti-vaxxer movement. They can lead to inflammation of the fetal brain at a critical stage of development.
  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV) causes brain damage including cerebral palsy.

Treatments and Interventions

The best course of action for a child who may have cerebral palsy is early detection and intervention. Children should be monitored for developmental milestones regularly and tested if they are not meeting regular markers. With prompt training and education, children with cerebral palsy can have a quality of life as full as any other child.

Physical Therapy for Motor Skills

Cerebral palsy is diagnosed when an infant feels unusually stiff, particularly floppy, or is unable to control their hands or fingers properly. For instance, when attempting to crawl, an infant with cerebral palsy might use their legs together, or drag them, rather than reciprocally.

To treat cerebral palsy, physical therapy uses balance equipment, orthotic devices, and other medical equipment to help the child strengthen loose muscles and relax stiff muscles. For children with spastic cerebral palsy, the therapy is aimed at relaxing the tense muscles and strengthening the muscles that are flexible so the child can walk or use their limbs equally.

Speech Therapies to Improve Communication

Cerebral palsy affects fine motor control, which is necessary for speech. Speech therapy assists those with cerebral palsy in learning to communicate, either by learning to control their lips and tongue or by acquiring alternative communication skills.

For instance, American Sign Language (ASL) can be used by those with some arm and hand control. Sometimes called “gross” signing, it is helpful for young children who cannot use other assistance devices to communicate.

Speech therapy assists those who can speak with refining and clarifying speech. Once a child is able to form sounds, a speech therapist helps the child form words and guides them into making audible and understandable speech.

Understand Your Legal Rights and Options

Raising a child with cerebral palsy, or any developmental disability, is expensive. You want your child to have the best possible life and education. If you believe your child’s disability is due to another person’s carelessness or negligence, you need to discuss it with a legal professional right away.

At the Mellino Law Firm, we have the experience needed to get you and your child the compensation you deserve for the pain you have suffered. Contact us at (440) 333-3800, or fill out our contact form. The initial consultation is free.