Is Cerebral Palsy an Autoimmune Disorder?

Causes of Cerebral Palsy

pregnant Black couple sitting on couch with large blue question mark and ultrasound print in right foreground

If you’re starting a family, it’s normal to want to learn as much as you can about conditions like cerebral palsy. As you gather information about symptoms and diagnoses, you might begin to have questions like, “Is cerebral palsy an autoimmune disorder?” Discover some of the potential causes and risk factors for cerebral palsy and learn about some steps you can take to decrease the risk of this condition.

Is Cerebral Palsy an Autoimmune Disease?

Cerebral palsy isn’t an autoimmune disease, which occurs when the body’s immune system accidentally attacks healthy cells. Instead, cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affect the patient’s motor abilities.

In fact, cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability affecting children in the United States. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) estimate that 1 in 345 children living in the U.S. have this condition.

While autoimmune disorder symptoms often include fatigue and inflammation, some of the most common signs of cerebral palsy include:

  • Overly stiff or relaxed muscles
  • Difficulty controlling movements
  • Trouble balancing or coordinating muscles

Potential Causes and Risk Factors for Cerebral Palsy

Patients can develop cerebral palsy in one of two ways. Congenital cerebral palsy develops due to brain damage that occurs before or during birth and accounts for up to 90% of cerebral palsy cases. In contrast, acquired cerebral palsy happens as a result of brain damage sustained 28 or more days after birth and accounts for 10% to 15% of cases.

When it comes to causes of either type of cerebral palsy, autoimmune issues typically aren’t factors. Instead, irregularities or interferences with brain development generally cause this disorder to occur or increase the risk level.

Risk Factors for Congenital Cerebral Palsy

Because congenital cerebral palsy happens before or during birth, it typically isn’t possible to identify a specific cause. Instead, one or more risk factors may contribute to this condition:

  • Premature birth: Babies considered premature, or born before the 37th week of pregnancy, may be at a higher risk of developing congenital cerebral palsy. As the CDC states, premature birth before the 32nd week of pregnancy may contribute to an even higher risk.
  • Low birth weight: Infants whose birth weight is under 5.5 pounds may have a higher risk level. Those with a birth weight of under 3 pounds may have an even greater risk.
  • Multiple births: Many twins, triplets, and other multiple births have a greater chance of developing congenital cerebral palsy partly because they are often premature or have low birth weights.
  • Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) treatments: Certain infertility treatments, such as ART, have a higher chance of producing children with congenital cerebral palsy.
  • Labor complications: During delivery, birth complications like a ruptured uterus, a detached placenta, or umbilical cord problems may contribute to an increased risk of congenital cerebral palsy.
  • Maternal health issues: Mothers who have serious virus and bacterial infections, such as rubella, herpes, syphilis, Zika, or toxoplasmosis, during pregnancy may have a higher risk of having a child with congenital cerebral palsy. Mothers with medical issues like thyroid problems or intellectual disabilities may also have an elevated risk.
  • Fetal health issues: Serious medical issues like bacterial meningitis, viral encephalitis, severe jaundice, and fetal strokes can happen before or during birth, causing an increased risk for cerebral palsy.

Causes for Acquired Cerebral Palsy

After birth, serious injuries, infections and other medical issues may cause acquired cerebral palsy. Potential causes may include:

  • Injuries: If infants sustain traumatic brain injuries (TBI) or related trauma from auto accidents, physical abuse, or other impacts, they may develop acquired cerebral palsy.
  • Infections: Meningitis, encephalitis, and other brain infections can occur after birth. In many cases, they could cause serious brain damage or delayed development, leading to acquired cerebral palsy.
  • Blood flow issues: Infants may experience decreased blood flow to the brain due to a stroke, blood clots, or other circulatory conditions, which have the potential to cause acquired cerebral palsy.

Risk Factors for Acquired Cerebral Palsy

Some of the risk factors for congenital cerebral palsy may also apply to the acquired form of the condition, according to the CDC. For example, infants born prematurely and babies with low birth weights have a higher chance of developing acquired cerebral palsy. Infancy may also be a risk factor since babies who experience serious infections and injuries tend to be more likely than older children to suffer brain damage.

Even though it’s possible to treat many of the symptoms of cerebral palsy, this condition can have a substantial effect on your family’s financial and emotional health. If you believe medical malpractice contributed to your child’s cerebral palsy, you may qualify for compensation. The Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs have assisted more than 30,000 families across the nation understand their options in cerebral palsy malpractice cases. Contact us today to find out how we can help you and your family.



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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