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Causes of Cerebral Palsy


There are many causes of cerebral palsy—some of which are preventable, and some which are not.  In general, it is the result of a problem in the brain—either an injury or a malformation of some kind.

There are four types of brain injury that may result cerebral palsy:

Periventricular Leukomalacia (PVL)

Periventricular Leukomalacia is a particular type of injury to the areas around the ventricles in the brain.  The death of brain cells can be caused by insufficient amounts of oxygen and blood to the brain.   The damage to the brain is progressive—the early death of brain cells causes the body to respond with an inflammatory response, which causes a cascade reaction by damaging other areas of the brain.

The extent of the brain damage and the degree of impairment is determined on a child-by-child basis.  Ultrasounds early after birth can help to determine the extent of brain damage, but only time will reveal the actual effect of that damage.

Children with PVL injuries are 20 to 60% more likely to suffer from cerebral palsy and other injuries.  Much recent research has focused on cooling the brain to prevent that inflammatory reaction.  See Hypothermia Therapy Reconsidered.

Intraventricular Hemorrhage (IVH)

This is essentially bleeding in the ventricles of the brain.  It can be caused by blood clots, trauma, high blood pressure, and infection, among others.  Like other forms of brain injury, the bleeding can cause damage or death to parts of the brain, which can impair motor function and development.  A significant risk in brain bleeds is a hematoma, which is swelling that can kill surrounding tissue and cause further damage.

Cerebral Dysgenesis

Cerebral Dysgenesis is abnormal brain development, making it unlike the other three causes of cerebral palsy because they are injuries.  Cerebral dysgenesis can be caused by a brain that does not fully develop, or that develops abnormally.  Genetic mutation, fever, infection, and trauma can cause these difficulties in the developing brain.

Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE)

This is a medical term for oxygen deprivation or reduced blood flow to the brain, which can be total or partial.  The cause can be a complete cut-off of oxygen/blood flow , or it can be a lengthy period of reduced oxygen or blood flow.  The area of damage to the brain depends in large part on how developed the baby is at the time of injury.  Particularly in premature babies, it can cause periventricular leukomalacia (PVL).

The number of causes of HIE are too numerous to state, but some of the main causes include umbilical cord complications, trauma, uterine rupture, placental abruption and medical negligence.

Contact Us

Cerebral palsy is a condition that affects people in varied ways, from mild to severe.  If you have questions about cerebral palsy—it’s causes, effects or treatments, contact us at (440) 252-4399.

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