Cerebral palsy is one of the most common birth injuries and impairs a child's movement during the first few years of life. Cerebral palsy is also known as Little's disease or static encephalopathy.
The symptoms of cerebral palsy are varied and can include disrupted motor skills, paralysis, spasticity, or seizures. There are four different types of cerebral palsy:
- Spastic cerebral palsy - the most common form of cerebral palsy; affects 70-80% of patients. This condition causes muscles to be in a constant state of increased involuntary reflex.
- Athetoid cerebral palsy - affects 10-20% of patients; symptoms are slow, uncontrolled movement
- Ataxic cerebral palsy - the rarest form of cerebral palsy, affects 5-10% of patients.
- Mixed cerebral palsy - symptoms are a combination of spasticity and athetoid cerebral palsy.
Cerebral palsy is caused when an infant suffers brain damage, either during pregnancy or within the first few years of life. Cerebral palsy is either congenital (at birth) or acquired (after birth).
- Congenital cerebral palsy is the result of brain damage during pregnancy or around delivery. It may be caused by a variety of conditions such as infection (rubella, toxoplasmosis, and cytomegalovirus), jaundice, Rh incompatibility (a condition where the mother's immune cells attack the fetus), shortage of oxygen to the brain, stroke, drug or alcohol use during pregnancy, bleeding in the infant's brain, and kidney or urinary tract infections in the mother.
- Acquired cerebral palsy can be caused by brain infections (meningitis and encephalitis) or head injuries.
Infants with cerebral palsy may be born with breech presentation, meaning the baby is born feet first rather than the usual head first birth. Also, a complicated labor and delivery could be an indication that the baby has cerebral palsy. Some of the first signs of cerebral palsy are vascular or respiratory problems, indicating that the baby has suffered some brain damage or has an underdeveloped brain. Some infants have nervous system malformations such as an unusually small head, which shows that problems occurred during the baby's development in utero. A low Apgar score (a rating scale that measures a newborn's heart rate, breathing, muscle tone, reflexes and skin color in the first minutes after birth) can also indicate that a baby has cerebral palsy.
Premature birth and low birth weight, maternal bleeding, severe proteinuria late in pregnancy, and vaginal bleeding during the sixth to ninth month of pregnancy are correlated with an increased risk of cerebral palsy. Mothers with mental retardation, seizures or hyperthyroidism have a higher risk of delivering a baby with cerebral palsy. Multiple births are also a risk factor for the condition.
Cerebral palsy is not always preventable, but in general a healthy pregnancy is ideal. Child safety seats, bicycle helmets, and safe practices in the home can prevent head injuries which can lead to cerebral palsy. Infants with jaundice can be treated with phototherapy, which prevents bile pigments from harming the brain. Blood tests performed on a pregnant mother can discover Rh incompatibility early on so that preventive treatment can begin. Vaccinations are effective in preventing pregnant women from contracting rubella or German measles, which can lead to cerebral palsy.
Once a child has cerebral palsy, he or she must face many difficult and severe medical, educational and social challenges in life. There is no cure for this condition, but different treatment methods such as physical therapy (especially in the first years of a child's life), drug therapy and surgery may be helpful.
A birth injury like cerebral palsy is not only difficult for the child, but devastating and traumatic for the entire family. Such birth injuries may result from improper medical responses or negligence of medical staff. If so, you may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, past and future loss of earnings, cost of future medical care, pain and suffering, and more. The attorneys at Oshman & Mirisola, LLP have over 35 years of experience representing clients in cerebral palsy, Erb's palsy and other birth injury cases. If your child suffers from cerebral palsy and you wish to bring legal action, please contact us at (800) 400-8182 and ask for Partner Ted Oshman, or fill out our online Contact us form for a free initial consultation.