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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Understanding Cerebral Palsy -- the Basics

What Causes Cerebral Palsy? continued...

According to the United Cerebral Palsy Association, about 10% of children with CP in the U.S. acquire the disorder after birth. It results from brain damage in the first few months or years of life. CP often follows infections of the brain, such as bacterial meningitis or viral encephalitis, or it may be the result of a head injury.

Some risk factors that increase the possibility that a child will later be diagnosed with CP include:

  • Breech births (with the feet, knees, or buttocks coming out first).
  • Vascular or respiratory problems in the infant during birth.
  • Physical birth defects such as faulty spinal bone formation, groin hernias, or an abnormally small jaw bone.
  • Receiving a low Apgar score 10 to 20 minutes after delivery. An Apgar test is used to make a basic, immediate determination of a newborn's physical health. For the test, the infant's heart rate, breathing, muscle tone, reflexes, and color are evaluated and given a score from 0 (low) to 2 (normal).
  • A low birth weight (less than 2,500 grams, or 5 lbs. 7.5 oz.) and premature birth (born less than 37 weeks into pregnancy).
  • Being a twin or part of a multiple birth.
  • A congenital nervous system malformation, such as an abnormally small head (microcephaly).
  • Seizures shortly after birth.

Mothers who had bleeding or severe proteinuria (excess protein in the urine) late in their pregnancy have a higher chance of having a baby with CP, as do mothers who have hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, mental retardation, or seizures.

Not all children who are exposed to these risk factors develop CP. However, parents and doctors should be aware of these risks and watch an at-risk child's development carefully.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on March 19, 2015
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