A Comprehensive Cerebral Palsy Resource

Cerebral Palsy: Risk Factors and Causes

Although they may overlap, the risk factors for and causes of cerebral palsy are not necessarily the same thing. A risk factor suggests that certain conditions are present that may result in cerebral palsy, whereas a cause is something that has been shown definitively to result in cerebral palsy.

Brain injuries like cerebral palsy are often tricky to diagnose and treat. Thus, there are cases where parents don’t find out about their child’s condition for a year or two after the onset of the cerebral palsy symptoms. Contrary to the often-told tale of the newborn who develops cerebral palsy due to oxygen loss during birth, the reality of the disorder is much more complicated.

With that in mind, the below lists are meant to serve as a guideline to the common cerebral palsy risk factors and cerebral palsy causes. Because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention divides cerebral palsy into the two categories of congenital cerebral palsy and acquired cerebral palsy, the risk factors and causes are divided here in the same manner. Below these umbrellas fall the different types of cerebral palsy: spastic, ataxic, athetoid, and mixed. The risk factors and causes don’t differ within the types.

Congenital Cerebral Palsy Risk Factors

  • Premature birth (defined as before 37 weeks)
  • Low birth weight (definition varies, but generally somewhere around or under 5 pounds)
  • Rh blood incompatibility (if the mother is Rh negative and the fetus isn’t)
  • Maternal infections like German measles or toxoplasmosis, or exposure to certain toxins such as meryl mercury during pregnancy
  • Breech or multiple births
  • Loss of oxygen to the baby during birth
  • Jaundice soon after birth

Acquired Cerebral Palsy Risk Factors

  • Brain infections, such as bacterial meningitis or viral encephalitis, in infants
  • Head injuries from accidents or abuse

Congenital Cerebral Palsy Causes

  • Random gene mutations that affect the brain as it develops
  • Fetal stroke
  • Loss of oxygen to the baby during birth

Acquired Cerebral Palsy Causes

  • Brain infections, such as bacterial meningitis or viral encephalitis, in infants
  • Head injuries from accidents or abuse
  • Strokes or seizures in newborns
  • White matter disease, formally called periventricular leukomalacia (PVL), in which small pockets of the white matter of the brain die due to softening of the brain tissue surrounding it – most common in premature infants

Although much is unknown about cerebral palsy, research into its risk factors and causes is ongoing. Hopefully, one day researchers will be able to understand the disorder better and perhaps even prevent some children from having it.