Cerebral palsy disorders account for the majority of neuromuscular conditions in children. Around 2 to 3 in 1,000 children will develop a cerebral palsy disorder, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Although most of these kids won’t be diagnosed until the age of 2 or 3, cerebral palsy is often caused by brain damage suffered before, during or shortly after a child’s delivery.
Cerebral palsy is not one single medical condition. In reality, the term “cerebral palsy” refers to a family of disorders, all of which come to affect the way a person moves. Cerebral palsy disorders are universally caused by improper brain development or brain damage.
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Doctors define three basic types of cerebral palsy: spastic, athetoid and ataxic. More precisely, researchers have identified three different qualities that more or less accurately describe the movements of a person affected by cerebral palsy:
Each particular cerebral palsy disorder involves damage to a different area of the brain. In ataxic cerebral palsy, for example, a person’s unsteady movements and balance problems are the result of damage to the cerebellum, the part of the brain responsible for maintaining balance. Spastic cerebral palsy, on the other hand, is thought to be caused by damage to the brain’s motor cortex, responsible for planning and controlling voluntary movements. Athetoid, or dyskinetic, cerebral palsy has been linked to the brain’s basal ganglia, which transmits electrical messages from the motor cortex to the spinal cord.
Up to 80% of cerebral palsy patients will exhibit spastic forms of the disorder, according to St. Louis Children’s Hospital. But cerebral palsy is rarely monolithic. Many people with the condition will display movements and impairments characteristic of more than one type. Most commonly, patients will develop spastic and athetoid movements – experiencing both repetitive twisting motions and the extreme muscle stiffness that defines spasticity.
Compared to spastic cerebral palsy, the athetoid and ataxic forms of the disorder are rare. Around 6% of cases will involve primarily athetoid movement disorders, with another 6% of cases defined as ataxic cerebral palsy.
At bottom, cerebral palsy is caused by brain damage or the improper development of brain tissue. The real question, then, is what causes this brain damage in the first place?
Researchers have linked cerebral palsy disorders to a number of different factors:
In individual cases, the condition can be caused by a combination of these factors, which act in concert to impair or inhibit proper brain development.
At this point, we should distinguish between birth injuries and congenital anomalies. Congenital anomalies, or birth defects, are the result of genetic abnormalities, mutations in genetic information that affect the way a fetus develops in the womb.
Researchers believe that some cases of cerebral palsy are caused by genetic abnormalities, although how these mutations work in detail is still poorly-understood. There is little – if anything – a physician can do to prevent genetic mutations that hinder brain development.
Thus, some cases of cerebral palsy are truly unavoidable. But cerebral palsy disorders can also be caused by birth injuries, forms of harm that befall infants before, during or after childbirth. In many cases, birth injuries are entirely preventable – if only an obstetrician had used more care in facilitating an infant’s delivery.
Cerebral palsy disorders can be caused by medical negligence – when healthcare professionals fail to uphold the well-accepted standards of medical care. When healthcare professionals fail to provide adequate medical care during pregnancy or delivery, some children will suffer brain damage. These brain injuries can lead to cerebral palsy disorders.
Some children sustain brain damage during assisted deliveries, when obstetricians use forceps or vacuum extractors to physically pull an infant through the birth canal. An infant’s head is extremely delicate, and excessive force can lead to traumatic injuries of the brain. A percentage of cerebral palsy cases will be caused by blunt-force trauma to a newborn’s head. In other cases, undiagnosed or improperly treated jaundice can progress to become kernicterus, a severe form of brain injury that can lead to cerebral palsy disorders.
These examples of medical negligence, however, are dwarfed by the cases of cerebral palsy caused by oxygen deprivation during delivery. Studies suggest that between 10% and 20% of cerebral palsy disorders are directly caused by birth asphyxia, a form of oxygen deprivation suffered during labor and delivery.
There are numerous fetal and maternal complications that can ultimately lead to birth asphyxia, from umbilical cord problems to long and difficult labors. But no matter the complication, obstetricians have a legal duty to use the evidence at their disposal to diagnose problems whenever possible and take the appropriate steps to avoid permanent injury. When medical professionals fail to honor that duty, families may be able to secure compensation by filing a cerebral palsy lawsuit.
Although a patient’s symptoms can change over time, cerebral palsy is a permanent disorder. There is no cure. Many people with cerebral palsy will require ongoing medical treatment, along with occupational and physical therapy, rehab, home care and assistive technologies. Beyond their physical impairments, many children with cerebral palsy will have co-occurring cognitive issues.
Caring for a child with cerebral palsy can become extremely expensive. Raising a child diagnosed with both cerebral palsy and an intellectual limitation can cost up to $50,000 every year, the Cerebral Palsy Group reports. Over the course of a lifetime, the cost of caring for a person with cerebral palsy can rise to well over $1 million, factoring in lost wages and an increased risk of medical complications.
No family should be expected to bear these burdens alone, especially when their child’s cerebral palsy disorder was caused by a medical professional’s negligence. Our experienced birth injury attorneys can help.
As the parent of a child of cerebral palsy, you may have powerful legal options. In New York, negligent healthcare professionals can be held accountable for allowing undue harm in the delivery room. We believe that children deserve outstanding care and that families deserve answers. Beginning an investigation is the first step toward justice.
To learn more about your rights, contact our cerebral palsy birth injury team today for a free consultation. Discuss your family’s situation with a trusted New York cerebral palsy lawyer – at no cost and no obligation.
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