Epilepsy and Cerebral Palsy: How Are They Related?

Birth Injury, Causes of Cerebral Palsy

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Cerebral palsy and epilepsy are more common than you might think. As of 2015, about 470,000 children had epilepsy in the United States. Meanwhile, cerebral palsy—the most common motor disability in childhood—affects an estimated 1 out of every 323 children. What’s more, many children with cerebral palsy also suffer from epileptic seizures. So, does that mean that epilepsy can result in cerebral palsy? Keep reading as we dive into what causes each of these disorders, and how they’re related.

What Is Epilepsy, and What Causes It?

Epilepsy is a common but serious neurological disorder in which brain activity is disturbed, causing seizures or periods of abnormal behavior and sensations, and sometimes a loss of consciousness. Because epilepsy affects everyone differently, not all children will experience the same symptoms, and seizures can range from mild to severe.

Seizures are categorized into groups depending on where they start in the brain, whether they cause a loss of awareness, and whether they involve other symptoms. Depending on where they start in the brain, epileptic seizures are referred to as having focal onset, generalized onset, or unknown onset. Different types of epilepsies are triggered by many potential causes, including:

  • Genetic influence. This can include a genetic tendency inherited from either parent, or a genetic tendency that isn’t inherited but is a new change in an individual’s genes.
  • Head trauma. Damage from a brain injury, such as from a car accident or fall, can cause epilepsy.
  • Developmental disorder. This includes autism and neurofibromatosis.
  • Infectious disease. Meningitis and viral encephalitis are examples of infectious diseases that can cause epilepsy.
  • Birth injury. Brain damage during delivery caused by asphyxia can result in epilepsy.

What Is Cerebral Palsy, and How Is It Caused?

Cerebral palsy refers to a group of disorders that affect movement and muscle tone or posture. It’s the most common motor disability among children, typically caused by damage to the brain before, during, or shortly after birth. Cerebral palsy causes poor muscle control and coordination in babies, which results in difficulty and delay with milestones such as holding up the head, rolling over, walking, and the like.

Just like with epilepsy, the exact cause of cerebral palsy may not be known in all cases. However, it is most often the result of trauma to the brain that occurs around the time of birth. This trauma can be triggered by factors including:

  • Premature birth (less than 37 weeks)
  • Low birth weight for gestational age
  • Blood clotting problems (thrombophilia)
  • Infection in the mother that attacks an infant’s central nervous system
  • Prolonged loss of oxygen during pregnancy or birth

Can Epilepsy Cause Cerebral Palsy?

Because children with cerebral palsy have had damage to specific areas of their brain, which increases the risk of developing abnormal nerve activity, they are more likely to suffer from epilepsy or other types of seizure disorders. Similarly, epilepsy is most common in children who have limited mobility—a definition which includes children with cerebral palsy.

The CDC estimates that 40% of children with cerebral palsy are also affected by epilepsy. However, the percentage of children with epilepsy who are also diagnosed with cerebral palsy is much lower. The reason for this is because, although epilepsy and cerebral palsy can both stem from the same damage to or abnormality of the brain, they are entirely separate disorders. The bottom line is that epilepsy does not cause cerebral palsy, just as cerebral palsy does not cause epilepsy. The two conditions merely coexist with one another, rather than cause each other.

Experienced Cerebral Palsy Attorneys Who Care About Your Case

If you believe that your child’s cerebral palsy was caused by medical error or neglect, the legal/medical team of Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs are here to provide you with the educational and legal resources you need. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss the next steps in your case.



Reviewed by:
Trish Fletcher, MS, BSN, CRNP, NNP-BC, ALNC
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner | Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant

Tricia is a dedicated, focused, Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant and Neonatal Nurse Practitioner with more than 25 years of experience. Her strong clinical and critical thinking skills, paired with expertise caring for neonates in a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), ensures meticulous medical records review. READ FULL BIO

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