What Are Some Conditions That Can Cause Cerebral Palsy?

Causes of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common form of childhood motor disability, affecting about 3.3 out of every 1,000 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A variety of conditions and risk factors can cause cerebral palsy, and researchers learn more about what causes this neurological disorder every day.

What Is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy has many different causes, but these all lead to damage to a fetus’s developing brain or to the brain of a child in the early years of life. This brain damage in turn affects an individual’s muscles, balance, or motor skills. Doctors used to think that cerebral palsy was primarily caused by a lack of oxygen while a child was being born. However, while that is one cause of cerebral palsy, we now know that there are many other causes as well.

There are two major categories of cerebral palsy: congenital CP and acquired CP.

Congenital Cerebral Palsy

Congenital CP results from brain damage that is sustained either in the developing fetus before birth or during birth. Congenital CP accounts for between 85% and 90% of all cases of CP.

While it is hard to say for certain what conditions cause congenital CP, there are several risk factors that make it more likely. Such risk factors include:

  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Multiple births (such as twins or triplets)
  • The use of assisted reproductive technology (ART) infertility treatments
  • Infections or viruses during pregnancy
  • Birth complications
  • Jaundice and kernicterus, a type of brain damage that can result from jaundice
  • Certain medical conditions in the mother (including seizures, intellectual disabilities, and thyroid problems)

Acquired Cerebral Palsy

Acquired CP, which is caused by brain damage that is sustained more than 28 days after birth, accounts for a relatively small percentage of cases of CP. The causes of acquired CP are easier to trace. They include:

  • Infection of the brain (such as meningitis or encephalitis)
  • Brain injury due to trauma
  • Problems with blood flow to the brain
  • Stroke

Preventing Cerebral Palsy

Because not all the causes of cerebral palsy are known or well understood by scientists, it is not always possible to prevent cerebral palsy. However, there are steps that expectant mothers and women who are planning to become pregnant can take to reduce the risk of cerebral palsy and other developmental problems in their children.

Before pregnancy, those who expect to become pregnant can:

  • Ensure that all health conditions are under control and any infections are treated by a doctor.
  • Get vaccinated for diseases like rubella, chickenpox, and the flu that can harm fetal development.
  • Consider ways to reduce the chance of multiple births if using ART infertility treatments.

During pregnancy, expectant mothers can:

  • Get regular prenatal care.
  • Learn more from their doctor about how to have a healthy pregnancy.
  • Wash their hands often with soap and water
  • Contact their doctor if they have signs of infection, such as a fever.

Once a baby is born, parents can:

  • Learn how to keep a baby safe and free from major injury, such as using the appropriate car seat, booster seat, or seat belt when the child is in a vehicle.
  • Take steps to prevent jaundice and kernicterus in consultation with a doctor.
  • Ensure that children are properly vaccinated against infections that can cause encephalitis and meningitis.

How Is Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?

You should notify your family doctor or pediatrician if you notice that your child has not reached developmental milestones on time. Your doctor may in turn refer you to a pediatric neurologist, who may conduct one or several tests to determine whether your child has cerebral palsy, including:

Once a child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a doctor will also conduct a number of tests to determine the severity of his or her symptoms, including:

  • Movement test
  • Disability test
  • Sight/vision test
  • Hearing and speech test

The relative severity of each case of cerebral palsy is ranked on a scale from level one to level five. At level one, the least severe, a child with CP does not have issues communicating with others in most situations, while at level five, the most severe level, a child has difficulty communicating with anyone, including family members.

Though science has made incredible progress in diagnosing and treating cerebral palsy, the diagnosis can still have a major impact on individuals with CP and their families. The Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC have helped over 30,000 families across the country explore their legal options. If you think your child or loved one’s cerebral palsy could be the result of medical malpractice, you could be eligible for compensation. Contact us today to let us seek justice for you and your family.



Claire Surles, RN
Reviewed by:
Claire Surles, RN
Registered Nurse

Claire comes to JJS after a 10-year career as a labor and delivery nurse. She dedicated her hospital efforts to advocating for families, providing the safest birthing environment possible as Newborn Admission Nurse at UMMC St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, Maryland. Her passion for helping those who experienced losses at any stage of gestation led to her appointment as Coordinator of the hospital’s ROOTS perinatal loss program. READ FULL BIO

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