Although cerebral palsy is a condition which affects the muscles, it is actually caused by damage to the part of the brain – the cerebrum – that controls muscle movements.
This damage usually occurs during pregnancy, birth or early life; unlike adult brains which can often recover from damage, the brains of young children are very vulnerable and the damage which occurs during this early period of life can have lifelong consequences.
Children with cerebral palsy will be slow to achieve developmental milestones when compared to their peers, and may also exhibit the signs of conditions associated with cerebral palsy: impaired eyesight or hearing, learning difficulties, seizures and epileptic fits.
Any parents who are concerned about their child’s development should consult their GP who can provide more information.
Cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition with no cure, although it is not degenerative. Treatment of cerebral palsy focuses on reducing any pain caused by the condition – usually through medicine – and increasing independence and quality of life through a range of treatments.
Every individual will receive a tailored treatment plan depending on their needs, but therapies on offer include physiotherapy to improve movement and co-ordination, speech and language therapy and occupational therapy to promote independence and help with daily tasks and skills.
The causes of cerebral palsy are often very complex and cannot be pinned down to one thing. It was originally thought that cerebral palsy was caused by asphyxiation during birth but, although that can be a factor, research has discovered that this is not the only cause of cerebral palsy. During pregnancy, infections or untreated pre-eclampsia can cause brain damage in the unborn child.
A severe lack of oxygen during labour can be a factor, as can a trauma after birth such as a head injury or stroke. Infections after birth, such as meningitis, as well as severe post-birth jaundice can also play a part.
Babies which are born in multiple births or prematurely are at higher risk for cerebral palsy. Abnormal brain development can in a few cases also be due to genetic or hereditary factors.
In most cases, these causes cannot be avoided. You can minimise the risk during your pregnancy by attending all ante-natal appointments so any issues can be spotted in time, and by living a healthy lifestyle during your pregnancy – a good diet, moderate exercise and avoiding smoking and drinking alcohol are all beneficial.
In a minority of cases, medical negligence can be the cause of cerebral palsy; failure to notice distress during labour or failure to treat any infections or issues can all play a part.
Anyone who is concerned that medical negligence may have played a part in their child’s cerebral palsy should contact a lawyer who specialises in cerebral palsy claims, who will be able to provide more information and advice.
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