Around 500,000 children and adults in the United States have cerebral palsy, and about two children in every 1,000 births will be born with the condition. Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term that covers several different conditions, but it generally refers to a non-progressive impairment of an individual's motor functions that causes physical disability. Individuals with cerebral palsy may be unencumbered from a cognitive standpoint or may have impairments that affect thinking, awareness and behavior.
There are generally three types of cerebral palsy: spastic cerebral palsy, athetoid cerebral palsy and ataxic cerebral palsy. Spastic cerebral palsy causes rigidity and difficulty with movement. Athetoid cerebral palsy causes involuntary and uncontrolled movement. Ataxic cerebral palsy interrupts an individual's sense of balance and depth perception.
If an infant is known to be at risk for cerebral palsy, the diagnosis may occur early. If an infant is born without overt risk factors, doctors are often unable to make a diagnosis until they observe a delay in the normal progression of development. Children with cerebral palsy normally display symptoms during the first three years of life. Some common signs and symptoms include:
- Delayed achievement of developmental marks such as crawling, walking or speaking
- Difficulty feeding and sucking
- Lying in awkward positions
- Poor coordination
- Crawling in unusual ways
- Favoring one side of the body
- Overdeveloped or underdeveloped muscles
- Stiff muscles that contract abnormally
- Low range of movement
- Problems swallowing
Many cases of cerebral palsy are the result of problems during pregnancy or injuries during delivery that damage the brain or interfere with its development. The majority of brain damage among children with cerebral palsy occurs during the first six months of pregnancy. Experts believe a lack of oxygen during pregnancy or birth may cause destruction of the unborn baby's brain cells. Brain damage may also be caused by low blood pressure, premature birth, consuming illegal drugs during pregnancy or contracting an infection like rubella.
Experts also believe that bleeding inside the brain of the unborn baby can cause cerebral palsy by stopping the supply of blood to brain tissue, which can damage or cause the brain tissue to die. Factors that can lead to a stroke during pregnancy or birth are:
- Emergency cesarean
- Prolonged second stage of labor
- Vacuum extraction
- Inflammation of placenta
- Abnormalities with umbilical cord
- Pelvic inflammatory infection of the mother
Experts also believe that premature babies or babies with a low birth weight may not be developed enough to handle life outside of the womb. These stresses may increase the risk of cerebral palsy. Factors that may lead to a higher risk of cerebral palsy are: breech delivery and multiple births among others.
If you believe your child suffered a birth injury, contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your legal options.