Cerebral palsy is a disorder that typically strikes children under the age of 3 and is related to brain damage that inhibits movement. The disorder does not progress over time, but symptoms can improve or worsen. Among children with a chronic disability, cerebral palsy is a common cause.
More than 700,000 Americans suffer from cerebral palsy, and approximately 10,000 infants are diagnosed on an annual basis. As many as half of children with cerebral palsy also are diagnosed with a seizure disorder and suffer from some degree of mental retardation. The disorder also can result in impairment of speech, hearing and vision, and it can cause learning disabilities.
Cerebral Palsy Causes
Experts believe that birth injuries and infections prior to, during and after birth play frequent roles in the development of cerebral palsy, and the disorder strikes premature babies especially often. Causes may include:
- Meningitis and other serious illnesses, dehydration and physical injuries that result in brain trauma.
- Maternal infections prior to birth that affect a fetus.
- Lack of oxygen to a baby’s brain during birth, which can occur during a difficult delivery.
- Infections to infants that result in inflammation in the brain or in areas surrounding the brain.
- A serious head injury to an infant from a fall, car accident or other cause.
- Random gene mutations that impair development of the brain.
- A stroke in a fetus, disrupting the supply of blood to the brain.
Cerebral palsy caused by brain damage that occurs during or prior to birth is known as congenital cerebral palsy; as many as 90 percent of cases fall into this category. Cases that result from brain damage more than 28 days following birth are known as acquired cerebral palsy and typically can be associated with a head injury or an infection.
A child’s risk for developing cerebral palsy can increase due to any of the following factors:
- An infection like syphilis, German measles, chickenpox or cytomegalovirus during pregnancy.
- Exposure to toxins like methylmercury during pregnancy.
- Thyroid problems, seizures and other medical issues during pregnancy.
- Infections such as bacterial meningitis and viral encephalitis in a newborn.
- Untreated or severe jaundice in a newborn.
- A premature birth in which a baby is born at fewer than 37 weeks.
- Breech birth, in which a fetus is in a feet-first position when labor begins.
- Multiple births.
- Low birth weight of less than 5.5 pounds.
- Respiratory or vascular issues in an infant during birth.
- Birth defects, including a very small jaw bone or poor formation of spinal bones.
- Seizures in an infant soon after birth.
Not all children exposed to risk factors will be diagnosed with cerebral palsy, but parents and doctors should be aware of risks and be alert to potential concerns as a child develops.
Cerebral Palsy Symptoms
Symptoms of the disorder can vary widely but may include:
- Slow movements that appear as writhing.
- Delayed milestones in the development of motor skills, such as the ability for an infant to push up onto the arms, crawl or sit without assistance.
- Dragging a leg when crawling, reaching out with one hand only or otherwise primarily using one side of the body.
- Muscle tone that appears too stiff or too loose.
- Exaggerated reflexes or an inability to control muscles.
- Involuntary motion or tremors.
- Trouble with walking, including walking up on the toes, crouching or using an unusually wide gait.
- Drooling or difficulty with swallowing, sucking or eating.
- Delayed speech development.
Cerebral Palsy Treatment
Both children and adults suffering from cerebral palsy typically need long-term treatment from a multidisciplinary team, including:
- A pediatrician or physician to manage the patient’s overall care and treatment plan.
- An orthopedic surgeon to diagnose and treat muscle and bone disorders.
- A pediatric neurologist to diagnose and treat disorders of the brain and nervous system.
- A physical or occupational therapist to assist with walking and other daily skills.
- A mental health specialist to assist with coping skills.
- A speech-language pathologist to treat language, speech and swallowing disorders.
- A developmental therapist to assist with development of social and interpersonal skills at the appropriate age levels.
In addition, certain medications can help loosen muscles and can improve pain and restore some functioning. Drug treatments also can result in certain risks that should be discussed with a physician. Surgeries may be required to improve muscle tightness or to correct abnormalities in bones. In severe cases, a surgeon may sever nerves to reduce pain and relax muscles.
Receiving Compensation for Cerebral Palsy
If your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and you believe you may be entitled to compensation, consult with an attorney who is experienced in cerebral palsy cases. For more information, contact Ivan Diamond, Bronx Personal Injury Lawyer, or call 877-960-1702.