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Risk Factors for Congenital and Acquired Cerebral Palsy

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Updated May 30, 2019 | Birth Injuries |


Cerebral palsy (CP) is a neurological disorder that affects muscle tone and movement in children. Doctors estimate that roughly 10,000 infants in the United States will develop cerebral palsy.

Doctors and researchers have identified specific risk factors associated with cerebral palsy. However, risk factors in no way promise cerebral palsy; they just increase the likelihood that a child could develop or have the disorder.

Congenital CP Risk Factors

Congenital cerebral palsy is when an infant is born with CP due to complications before or during birth. These complications include the following.

Infection in a Pregnant Mother

Certain infections are known to pose a higher risk of giving birth to an infant with CP, such as:

  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Chicken pox
  • Meningitis
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Syphilis
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Rubella (German measles)
  • Consuming undercooked or raw meat
  • Consuming mercury from fish

Health Conditions in a Pregnant Mother

Expectant mothers who suffer from thyroid problems, seizures, or have intellectual disabilities (e.g. Down Syndrome) are at a higher risk of delivering a baby with cerebral palsy.

Complications During Labor and Delivery

Any complications during birth that run the risk of cutting off an infant’s oxygen supply can cause CP. Common birth complications that increase the risk for CP include:

  • Breech birth
  • Umbilical cord complications
  • Uterine rupture during birth process
  • Premature membrane rupture
  • Abruptio placentae
  • Prolonged second-stage delivery

Low Birth Weight

Babies born under 5.5 pounds, and more so if they weigh around 3 pounds 5 ounces, are at a greater risk for CP than babies with a birth weight above 5.5 pounds.

Premature Birth

The likelihood of having cerebral palsy is higher if a baby is born before the usual 37 weeks of pregnancy, especially if the baby is born before the 32nd week.

Multiple Births

There’s only so much room in a woman’s uterus, and when a mother is expecting twins, triplets, or more, the risk for cerebral palsy increases. The risk becomes greater if one or more of the multiples dies.

Acquired CP Risk Factors

The difference between congenital and acquired cerebral palsy is timing. Acquired cerebral palsy is caused by brain damage or infection occurring 28 days or later after the infant’s birth. A very small percentage of cerebral palsy cases are acquired. Common risk factors for acquired cerebral palsy include:

  • Traumatic head injuries by way of dropping an infant, vehicle crashes, or physical abuse
  • Issues with blood flow to the brain caused by strokes, heart defects, sickle cell anemia, or improperly formed blood vessels
  • Bacterial and viral infections such as meningitis or encephalitis

Contact a Birth Injury Attorney Today

If you believe your child has cerebral palsy due to medical malpractice, you are urged to contact the Indianapolis Birth Injury Attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. The lawyers at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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