Cerebral Palsy - Causes

What causes cerebral palsy?

For more than half of all people with cerebral palsy, the cause occurs between 24 weeks of pregnancy and the birth. This is the period when there is a great deal of brain development. The brain is therefore particularly sensitive to any damage during this period.

For many people with cerebral palsy, the cause of the damage to the brain is not known. Genetic factors may play a part. Genetic means that the condition is passed on through families through special codes inside cells called genes.

The underlying cause of cerebral palsy does not get worse (progress). However, the effect on the body does often progress so that the symptoms gradually become worse.

Many other factors are known to increase the risk of developing cerebral palsy. These include:

Factors during pregnancy (antenatal)

Factors around the time of birth (perinatal)

  • Severe infection in the baby or the mother.
  • Damage to the baby's brain around the time of the birth.

Factors after birth (postnatal)

  • Severe infection - for example, sepsis or meningitis.
  • Severe jaundice in a newborn baby.
  • Bleeding into the brain (intracranial haemorrhage).
  • Injury (trauma).

It was thought that problems with labour and delivery were the main cause of cerebral palsy. However, this is now known to be incorrect. It is thought that less than 1 case in 10 is due to problems around the birth of a baby. For example, severe prolonged lack of oxygen during birth may be a cause in a small number of cases.

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Dr Colin Tidy
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Anjum Gandhi
Document ID:
4895 (v41)
Last Checked:
04 May 2017
Next Review:
07 May 2020

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.