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Causes of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy currently affects 764,000 American and is diagnosed in approximately 8,000 babies and infants each year. With the multiple possible causes of cerebral palsy, a high percentage of them are preventable. Causes of cerebral palsy damage the nerve cells in the motor control center of the brain. When the neurons in this region die, proper signals can no longer be sent to the muscles under their control. This results in poor muscle control, ultimately exhibiting the signs of cerebral palsy. Causes of cerebral palsy can be traced to injury of the cerebrum or under-development of the cerebrum. The cerebrum is the largest part of the brain, responsible for higher mental faculties, sensations and voluntary muscle activities. Cerebral palsy is not a disorder with a single cause, but rather a group of disorders with associated problems regarding control of movement, with a variety of causes.

There are a large number of factors that can lead to causes of cerebral palsy. A risk factor for cerebral palsy is not one of the causes of cerebral palsy but a variable which, when present, increases the chance of cerebral palsy. If a risk factor is present, it serves to alert parents and physicians to be even more observant to the infant's development.

Asphyxia, or lack of oxygen, is one risk factor of cerebral palsy where brain cells not getting enough oxygen due to poor circulation may die. Asphyxia during birth is also possible, and about 10% of newborns known to have suffered asphyxia during birth develop cerebral palsy. A viral or bacterial infection contracted by the mother can also damage the fetal brain. Rubella, otherwise known as the German measles, toxoplasmosis (often contracted through undercooked meat), cytomegalovirus (a herpes virus), and HIV are also known to cause infections that are causes of cerebral palsy. Physical trauma to a pregnant mother or the infant can cause brain damage as well. Blows to the infant’s head due to an automobile accident, physical abuse or other such trauma can result in cerebral palsy. Also, maternal malnutrition and drug and alcohol use during pregnancy can be causes of cerebral palsy. Rh blood type compatibility between mother and fetus is also a risk factor, with the chance becoming greater after the initial pregnancy. Once incompatibility is diagnosed, treatment procedures can prevent the mother’s immune system from attacking the child’s blood cells. Jaundice that does occur can be treated with special lights that assist the infant in the breakdown of bilirubin. A congenital cerebral palsy results from a brain injury during intra-uterine life, or while a fetus is still inside the uterus. Although present at birth, it may not be detected for months after.

Congenital cerebral palsy accounts for 70% of cases found in children. However, an additional 20% are diagnosed with congenital cerebral palsy due to a brain injury during child delivery. The additional 10% acquire the disorder after birth. However, countries with under developed healthcare see a number much higher. Acquired cerebral palsy results from brain damage in the first few months or years of life and can follow brain infections, such as bacterial meningitis or viral encephalitis, or the results of head injury most often from a motor vehicle accident, a fall, or child abuse. Many causes of cerebral palsy can be prevented with the proper prenatal and postnatal care.

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