There are varied causes of cerebral palsy and often several factors occur together resulting in cerebral palsy. Often the cause is never identified. Factors which increase the risk of developing cerebral palsy include:
- Being born preterm, especially before 28 weeks, when the brain is more vulnerable to lower levels of oxygen and can bleed more easily
- Twin, triplet or other multiple births
- Infections during the pregnancy, such as rubella, chicken pox, herpes, cytomegalovirus or toxoplasmosis.
- Smoking, drinking large amounts of alcohol or taking drugs (e.g. cocaine, heroin) during pregnancy.
- A severe lack of oxygen during labour which is prolonged. This is a less frequent cause than once thought and only a cause in about one in ten cases
- Severe jaundice in a new born baby
- Infections affecting the baby in the period just after birth, such as meningitis or encephalitis
- Trauma after birth in a young baby, e.g. head injury, near cot death or almost drowning, stroke
- In a few cases it may be due to genetic or hereditary factors, or because the brain does not develop properly.
How common is Cerebral palsy?
In a study* of populations of children in Europe including the UK, the prevalence rate of CP was found to be 2.08 per 1000 live births. Of those, 85.5% had spastic cerebral palsy, 6.5% athetosis, 4% ataxia and the remaining were unknown (see “What is Cerebral Palsy”).
* SCPE (2002). “Prevalence and characteristics of children with cerebral palsy in Europe.” Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology 44: 633-640.
Diagnosis of Cerebral palsy
It may be known that a baby has risk factors for developing cerebral palsy, such as having been born very preterm. If so, the baby would be followed up at regular intervals. If their development is not progressing in a typical way, further examination of the baby and brain scans may show whether or not the baby has cerebral palsy.
Otherwise, concerns might be raised at a later stage about delay in a child’s development, such as being unable to sit, crawl, use hands for play, etc. These differences might be due to abnormal muscle tone and movements. Typically a detailed medical history, an examination of the child’s movement and muscle tone and possibly scans of the child’s brain, would then take place to help arrive at a diagnosis.