Can a Stroke Cause Cerebral Palsy?

Causes of Cerebral Palsy

Baby in NICU after stroke

A stroke is often associated with older adults, but in some cases, a child or even an unborn fetus can suffer a stroke. A child who suffers a stroke has a significant chance of developing cerebral palsy. Learn more about the signs of a stroke and how it can be treated.

What Is a Stroke?

A stroke is the blockage of a blood vessel in the brain resulting in the loss of blood flow to the brain. There are two kinds of strokes:

  1. An ischemic stroke is a blockage or a clot in a blood vessel and results in reduced flow of the needed oxygenated blood to the brain. When the brain doesn’t get the blood it needs, the brain cells die, causing permanent damage to the brain. As a result, some of the baby’s body parts don’t develop or work as they should.
  2. A hemorrhagic stroke can occur when a blood vessel breaks and disrupts the normal amount of blood circulation. In many cases, the brain gets too much blood, which also damages the brain cells.

Strokes are not as common in children as they are in adults, but can still happen.

Can a Stroke Cause Cerebral Palsy?

A perinatal stroke is one of the most common causes of hemiparetic cerebral palsy. A child with hemiparetic CP has weakness or paralysis on one side of their body. Not all pediatric and perinatal stroke survivors develop disabilities related to cerebral palsy, but it is one of the causes of the neurological disabilities associated with CP.

Perinatal Strokes

A perinatal stroke is a stroke that takes place from sometime during the middle of a pregnancy up to the first month after birth. These strokes often go unnoticed because the symptoms and signs are very subtle, and the baby cannot communicate that something is wrong. An ischemic stroke is the most common kind of stroke in infants under one month old.

Types of Perinatal Strokes

There are two types of perinatal strokes. A fetal stroke occurs before birth or very close to the time of birth, while a neonatal stroke can occur at birth or any time up to 28 days after birth.

Causes of Perinatal Strokes

The cause of a perinatal stroke can vary, and in some cases, there is no way to know what caused it. Since babies have thicker blood than adults, they start with a higher risk for blood clots and stroke, but other factors can increase their risk and contribute to a stroke. Some causes include:

  • Head trauma during labor or delivery: Pressure on the baby’s head can lead to the development of blood clots and reduced flow of blood to the brain.
  • Infections: Sepsis, chickenpox and meningitis are infections that occur after birth and can lead to blood clots.
  • Dehydration: Dehydration sometimes results in a stroke.
  • Congenital defects: Some congenital defects, such as congenital heart disease, make it easier for the blood to form clots, which then pass from other parts of the body to the brain.
  • Genetic disorders: Some genetic disorders can cause strokes to occur.
  • Blood disorders: Sickle cell disease is a common blood disorder that can destroy blood cells and block blood vessels. It can lead to a lack of blood flow to the brain and cause a stroke.

It is generally difficult to determine the cause of a perinatal stroke, and in many cases, the reason is never found. Some identifiable risk factors can put an infant at a higher risk of a stroke.

Signs of a Stroke

The signs of a stroke in an infant can be hard to detect and often don’t show up until months or, in some cases, even years later. A child who suffered a stroke as an infant often develops normally, but at a slower rate than other children.
Some of the common signs and symptoms of a stroke include:

  • Rhythmic twitching of the arm, leg or face
  • Pauses in breathing
  • Staring or focal weakness
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty with feedings
  • Older children might favor one hand over the other before they turn one year old
  • Partial weakness on one side of the body

If you find that your infant has decreased movement or some weakness on one side of their body, it could be the result of a stroke. At this point, you should have them evaluated by a doctor.

Treatment Options

The treatment for a stroke depends on the complications that arise as a result of the stroke. If the signs of a stroke are obvious, a doctor can treat it as it happens. Some treatments include:

  • Anticonvulsant medications to limit seizures
  • Surgery to remove pooling blood and relieve any pressure on the brain
  • Oxygen and fluids to help hydrate an infant
  • Blood thinners to break up any blood clots

Children who suffer a stroke may face challenges as they develop, but they can adapt and live happy healthy lives. If your child has developed cerebral palsy and you feel that a stroke caused your child’s condition through a medical professional’s inaction, you may have legal options.

Contact the Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC with any questions about bringing a potential case. Our team has decades of experience helping families seek compensation for a more secure future.

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