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Is Cerebral Palsy Always Caused by a Medical Error at Birth?

No. Cerebral Palsy can be caused by problems with brain development during pregnancy, during birth and in the first 2 years of the child’s life. Around 20 percent of children diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy are determined to be caused by medical error at birth.

Causes of Cerebral Palsy

There are many possible causes of Cerebral Palsy, including malformation of the infant’s brain,  certain infections, genetic defects, prenatal medical problems, head injury, oxygen deficiency, medical errors during labor and more. Cerebral Palsy can be preventable in some cases and completely unavoidable in others. It can be caused by injuries, sickness, poor prenatal care, medical malpractice and genetics.

Prenatal Causes 

There are many prenatal causes of Cerebral Palsy.  German measles (rubella), cytomegalovirus and herpes are a few of the viruses and bacterial infections that can affect the womb and placenta, potentially causing brain damage and Cerebral Palsy. High fever in the mother during pregnancy can lead to fetal brain damage and possible Cerebral Palsy. 

Involuntary exposure to toxic chemicals such as certain pesticides and heavy metals  as well as alcohol and illegal drug use do not directly cause Cerebral Palsy, however they do lead to increased occurrence of fetal brain damage and a higher risk of delivering a baby with Cerebral Palsy. 

Another cause of Cerebral Palsy is Intrauterine hypoxia, when the fetus is deprived of oxygen due to many possible causes including placental infarction and problems with the umbilical cord during pregnancy and birth. There are also many different genetic disorders that can increase the likelihood of an infant being born with Cerebral Palsy.

Infections During Pregnancy 

Any infection that causes the mother to have a fever increases the risk but there are some specific infections that are directly linked to Cerebral Palsy. Some infections that affect the mother can also impact the fetus and increase risk of Cerebral Palsy. 

A few of these are toxoplasmosis, cytomegalovirus, German measles (rubella), chicken pox, herpes and other sexually transmitted diseases. Other infections, like Chorioamnionitis, directly attack the fetal membranes and amniotic fluid, causing a fever in the mother and an increased risk to the fetus. 

Preventing and treating any infections is paramount to the safety of the unborn baby. Hygiene is always the first line of defense in avoiding bacteria and viruses. Handwashing, especially after handling food, dirt, animals and being around sick people, is the best way to avoid sickness in yourself. Another line of defense is regular medical check-ups. 

It is vital to see your ob-gyn regularly throughout your pregnancy and to make an appointment immediately if you have symptoms or have been exposed to anything that could be a danger to your unborn child. Also avoid risk factors such as changing litter boxes, unpasteurized milk and wild animals, which can expose you to parasites that cause dangerous infections.

Genetic Disorders

Though there is no specific genetic disorder, certain factors have been found to predispose an individual to Cerebral Palsy. Some genetic predispositions or inherent risk factors for Cerebral Palsy, such as preterm birth, low birth weight and preeclampsia. Other genetic defects are caused by random gene mutations and exposure to toxins, causing mutations, which can cause brain malformations and lead to Cerebral Palsy. 

Genetic influences can develop complex-interactions with other genes and environmental influences. This is believed to be the cause in Cerebral Palsy’s appearance of heredity in some families where there is more than one member of the family diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. This is known as familial occurrence. 

Maternal Health Issues (e.g., preeclampsia)

Preeclampsia is a prenatal hyertensive blood pressure condition which does pose a risk for Cerebral Palsy, especially in premature births. Uncontrollable high blood pressure can lead to stroke and oxygen deprivation for the fetus, greatly increasing the risk of Cerebral Palsy. 

RH incompatibility is another maternal health issue that can increase risk of Cerebral Palsy. RH incompatibility is when the mother has RH negative blood and the fetus has RH positive blood. The mother’s body will release an immune response that attacks the infant. This incompatibility can easily be found with a blood test and is treated with a series of 2 shots. If untreated, the infant can develop severe jaundice that can lead to brain damage and Cerebral Palsy.

Alcohol, cigarettes and illegal drugs can be a strong risk factor for Cerebral Palsy because the toxicity of these can limit brain development and lead to low birth weight and premature birth, all of which are risk factors for Cerebral Palsy. Some prescription drugs are known to be dangerous to pregnant or nursing mothers. Remaining on these throughout the pregnancy can also be dangerous.

Perinatal Causes 

Perinatal is the period of time from the beginning of pregnancy until one year after childbirth. Since this is the time when the infant’s brain is developing, nearly all causes of Cerebral Palsy fall into this time frame, with a few exceptions up until two years of age. Maternal health issues and genetic disorders all affect the infant during this time frame as well as multiple gestations and premature birth. 

Another area of risk in this time frame is birth, a time when trauma can occur from a difficult labor and delivery, whether from unavoidable birth trauma or from medical malpractice. 

Medical Malpractice and Cerebral Palsy

Though most doctors and nurses act with care, accidents do happen during childbirth and sometimes they are avoidable. These avoidable accidents, when doctors and nurses were negligent in any area of care, can constitute medical malpractice that can lead to birth injuries, putting the infant at a higher risk of Cerebral Palsy. 

Basically, any medical complication that causes the infant to suffer from oxygen deficiency and/or any head injury that affects the brain puts the infant at higher risk for Cerebral Palsy. Anytime one of these injuries occur due to the negligence of a medical professional, this constitutes medical malpractice.

When to Seek Medical Attention for Birth Concerns

Anytime you have a birth concern, you should address it immediately, preferably before leaving the hospital with your infant. If a concern develops after leaving the hospital, either contact the nursing staff at your delivery location or contact your pediatrician as soon as possible. Many pediatrician’s offices and all hospitals are available for after-hours calls.

Consulting a Medical Malpractice Lawyer if You Suspect a Birth Injury

If your child suffered a birth injury due to negligence of a medical professional, you should contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible. This injury could cause your child to be diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy or another disability. Sadly, the costs associated with raising a child with a disability are high. An experienced medical malpractice attorney will see to it that you receive the compensation that you deserve so that you can focus on what’s important to you - taking care of your baby.

Bailey Cowan Heckaman Law: Your Medical Malpractice Allies 

Our associates at Bailey Cowan Heckaman Law are proud to be on your side in your medical malpractice suit and in making sure that you and your infant get what you deserve.

Contact us today to speak to a certified professional about your case.

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