Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affect balance, body movement, and posture. Cerebral palsy varies widely and can include mild to severe conditions. Specific causes of cerebral palsy vary widely, though the root cause is due to some type of neurological damage or abnormal brain development.
Occurring in every two to three per 1,000 live births, cerebral palsy is considered congenital in many cases. It can be a birth defect present even before a baby is born; most cases are considered to exist before birth. This occurs when one or several parts of the infant's brain that command motor activity and muscle tone do not properly develop.
Causes of cerebral palsy present before birth are often due to activities that took place during pregnancy, such as maternal injury or alcohol or drug use. Other maternal risk factors can include high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism, mental retardation, placenta previa, poor nutrition during pregnancy, seizures, and maternal diabetes. Genetic factors can also cause the disease. In up to half of diagnosed cases, causes are cited as unknown.
In addition to prematurity, other risk factors for cerebral palsy may be present during delivery. A breech, transverse, or face birth can increase cerebral palsy risk. Medical mistakes are often cited as causes of cerebral palsy. The delivery method itself can cause damage, especially if a medical instrument is required to help the baby exit the womb.
The causes of cerebral palsy during early childhood may not have taken place during fetal development, but rather in the early months or years of life. Such cases are known as acquired cerebral palsy. Acquired cerebral palsy may develop from brain damage caused by a neonatal infection, such as viral encephalitis, jaundice, or bacterial meningitis.
Fetal distress symptoms, such as a severely reduced heart rate or a low oxygen intake, can be causes of cerebral palsy. Head injuries developed through child abuse, a motor vehicle accident, or a simple fall can cause the condition. These injuries, however, account for less than ten percent of diagnosed cases.
Though often apparent following birth, these effects may not be present until early childhood. The effects can be seen if a child experiences developmental delays. Some delays may include not being able to sit, crawl, or walk at an age-appropriate level. People with cerebral palsy may also have difficulty swallowing, speaking, and coordinating overall body movement.
To diagnose cerebral palsy, a physician takes many different factors into account. The medical history of both the child and his or her parents are both examined, as well as overall risk factors in their lives. The onset of the disorder is also key in making an accurate diagnosis. Learning disabilities, dental problems, mental retardation, poor bladder and bowel control, breathing issues, eating problems, seizures, and many other conditions may also be linked to cerebral palsy.