Imaging Tests, Brain Scans, and Cerebral Palsy

Birth Injury, Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis

illustration of human brain with overlaid smaller illustrations of various brain scan types

Over the last several decades, doctors and medical researchers have used brain imaging tests to help them understand how cerebral palsy (CP) develops in children and affects their lives. If your child’s doctor suspects that your child has CP, they may request brain imaging tests to help them correctly diagnose the condition. A pediatric neurologist, a medical professional who specializes in the care of and treatment for childhood neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy, may conduct several brain imaging tests to determine whether your child has brain damage resulting in CP.

Scans and Brain Imaging Tests for Cerebral Palsy

CP results from a brain injury that occurs during a child’s neurological development. Imaging tests and scans give medical professionals the ability to view and further understand the extent of damage to a child’s brain so that they can assess the severity level of CP. Learn more about some of the most common tests used to identify and diagnose cerebral palsy.

Computed Tomography (CT)

A CT scan uses X-ray equipment to create detailed images of structures inside the brain. Doctors typically order CT scans when they need to study soft tissues in the brain and other parts of the body.

A CT scan can help medical professionals identify and diagnose brain hemorrhaging and leukomalacia. Additionally, CT imaging can help doctors identify brain abnormalities in babies and children with CP.

When examining babies, medical professionals use CT scans only when absolutely necessary due to radiation exposure inherent with this type of imaging. A CT procedure typically requires approximately 20 minutes to complete, and children need to remain still during the procedure to avoid compromising the CT scan’s quality.

Cranial Ultrasound

A cranial ultrasound uses sound waves to capture images of the brain. It does not produce the same depth of quality as a CT or MRI scan. However, a cranial ultrasound can still reveal abnormalities and cysts in brain structures.

Doctors generally request a cranial ultrasound for babies who are born prematurely and may have suspected bleeding in the brain resulting from intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH) or periventricular leukomalacia (PVL). Both IVH and PVL are among the causes of brain damage that may lead to the development of CP.

A cranial ultrasound can be a useful brain imaging test for diagnosing neonatal brain injury. To be effective, however, medical professionals must perform the ultrasound on babies before the bones in their cranium are fully formed, given that sound waves produced by the ultrasound equipment cannot pass through bones.

Medical professionals can perform cranial ultrasounds on infants from birth to 18 months of age to rule out the possibility of conditions other than CP, such as encephalitis or meningitis.

Electroencephalography (EEG)

Electroencephalography (EEG) measures brain wave activity. To do so, an EEG technician attaches small discs containing electrodes to an individual’s scalp. These electrodes pick up and display brain wave activity on an EEG monitor. The technician can print a chart or graph of this activity for a neurologist to examine.

Your child’s neurologist may request an EEG if your child exhibits any signs of epilepsy. Epilepsy occurs in about 15% to 60% of children with CP, and seizures associated with epilepsy can be quite common. Children who experience seizures due to epilepsy have distinct electrical patterns in their brain wave activity that an EEG can record.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

An MRI uses strong magnets and pulses of radio wave activity to create a three-dimensional view of the brain. The device that produces the MRI consists of a large, hollow tube with an examination table in the middle that moves the individual into the tube where the scanning takes place.

MRI scans allow doctors to study the structure of a child’s brain and detect any abnormalities present. Unlike a CT scan, an MRI can reveal the location of brain lesions or other areas of concern. In babies with CP, an MRI can detect hypoxic-ischemic lesions associated with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) and periventricular leukomalacia (PVL).

Doctors typically prefer to use MRI scans because of their capacity for detecting brain injuries. Research has also revealed that an MRI offers enhanced detection of the timing of the injury that resulted in CP, which may help medical professionals better determine the actual cause.

While an MRI is a safe and effective way to study the brain’s behavior, the scanning can take up to an hour, and the machine can be loud. Your child’s doctor may prescribe a light sedative to help keep your child calm and still during the procedure.

Cerebral palsy can have a significant emotional and financial impact on the parents and caregivers of children with CP. If you think that your child’s cerebral palsy is the result of medical malpractice or negligence, you may be eligible for compensation. Contact the Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC, to speak with our caring team of legal professionals.



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

Was Your Child's CP Preventable?