Cerebral palsy represents a group of neurological disorders that appear in infancy or early childhood and permanently affect body movement, muscle coordination, and balance. The condition does not worsen over time, but its symptoms can change. Although cerebral palsy affects muscle movement, it is not caused by problems in the muscles or nerves. Instead, cerebral palsy is caused by abnormalities in parts of the brain that control muscle movements.
Signs of Cerebral Palsy
The majority of children with cerebral palsy are born with it, even though it may not be detected until months or years later. The early signs of cerebral palsy usually appear before a child reaches age 3. Some of the symptoms include:
- Lack of head control
- Poor motor development
- Delays in walking or crawling
- Muscle abnormalities (stiff or over-relaxed muscles)
- Loss of coordination and balance
- Difficulty in coordinating and writing
- Involuntary spasms and movements
- Problems with hearing, sight, and speech
- Problems with bladder and bower control
- Slow general development
The most common symptoms of cerebral palsy are a lack of muscle coordination when performing voluntary movements (ataxia); stiff or tight muscles and exaggerated reflexes (spasticity); walking with one foot or leg dragging; walking on the toes, a crouched gait, or a "scissored" gait; and muscle tone that is either too stiff or too floppy. The part of the brain that is damaged determines what parts of the body are affected.
The Causes of Cerebral Palsy
There are many possible causes of the brain damage. Some causes affect how the child's brain develops during the first 6 months of pregnancy. These causes include genetic conditions and problems with blood supply to the brain. Other causes of cerebral palsy occur after the brain has developed. These causes can happen during later pregnancy, delivery ("Congenital CP"), or the first years of the child's life ("Acquired CP"). They include bacterial meningitis and other infections, bleeding in the brain, lack of oxygen, severe jaundice, and head injury. Cerebral Palsy disorders are caused by faulty development of or damage to motor areas in the brain that disrupt the brain's ability to control movement and posture.
A variety of conditions can lead to brain injury, including any one of the following:
Genetic conditions and blood supply problems to the brain: these can affect how the child's brain develops during the first 6 months of pregnancy.
- Oxygen shortage: if the oxygent supply to the brain is severly low at the time of birth, the infant may suffer a type of brain injury called hypoxic-ishemic encephalopathy.
- Rh incompatability: a blood condition that causes the mother's immune cells to attack the fetus, resulting in jaundice.
- Severe jaundice: this can occur in a child during the first weeks after birth.
- Toxicity: drug or alcohol use during pregnancy can result in brain damage.
- Kidney and urinary tract infections: these infections, if severe and prolonged, in the mother can lead to brain damage within the fetus.
- Exposure of the expectant mother to certain infections: these infections include rubella, toxoplasmosis and cytomegalovirus.
- Severe physical trauma to the mother during pregnancy: auto accidents, bad falls, and other traumatic forces can cause brain damage.
Acquired cerebral palsy results from brain damage in the first few months to years of life and can be caused by conditions. These include brain infections like encephalitis and meningitis can cause brain damage, along with head injuries, automobile accidents, and child abuse.
Medical Errors That Result in Cerebral Palsy / Brain Damage
Medical mistakes made by doctors and other healthcare professionals during delivery can include one or more of the following:
- Failure to recognize fetal distress
- Failure to order a C-Section in a timely manner
- Failure to detect a prolapsed umbilical cord reducing oxygen supply
- Improper use of a vacuum extractor
- Improper use of delivery forceps
- Failure to properly respond to the baby' vital signs
- Failure to properly suction the baby (ie., meconium aspiration)
- The failure to recognize and treat seizures following delivery
- Failure to diagnose and treat jaundice or meningitis
The following incidents may indicate the possibility of a medical malpractice claim against the hospital, doctors, and/or other healthcare staff:
- The use of resuscitation (CPR) after birth
- Emergency delivery with forceps, or by c-section
- Special testing after birth, such as an MRI scan, CT scan or brain scan
Treatment of Cerebral Palsy and Prognosis
Cerebral palsy cannot be cured, but various treatment forms can improve a child' capabilities and overall quality of life. Generally, the earlier treatment begins the greater the chance the child has of overcoming many developmental disabilities or learning new ways to accomplish the tasks that challenge them. Treatment may include one or more of the following: physical therapy; occupational therapy; speech therapy; drugs to control seizures, alleviate pain, or relax muscle spasms; hyperbaric oxygen; the use of medication to relax contracting muscles; surgery to correct anatomical abnormalities or release tight muscles; braces and other orthotic devices; wheelchairs and rolling walkers; and communication aids such as computers with attached voice synthesizers.
Consulting a Medical Malpractice Lawyer – Cerebral Palsy or Brain Damage
Although doctors, nurses, and other health professionals invariable try their very best, medical mistakes can and do occur. Families with children suffering from a birth injury should consider contacting a medial malpractice attorney experienced in birth injury cases. Medical mistakes are responsible for many birth injuries. The time, effort, and expense needed to care for a brain damage child can be overwhelming.